Posts Tagged 'africacommand'

African Village Reception

Master Sergeant Donald Sparks, Flintlock 10 Public Affairs wrote:

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Today as my party entered the Malian community of Jiwoyo to conduct a medical civil action program, we were greeted with the rhythmic sound of drums and celebratory wailing and singing of women in colorful African garb.

As I stood and watched, goose bumps covered my skin and I can honestly say now that I have experienced the trueness of my ancestors of which my brown pigmentation began.

Different hues of brown skin circled around me with grins — both warm and wide as the African sky made me feel right at home.

I held the worn and wrinkled hands of the elder women, much like those of my dear late grandmother, hands which have toiled their homeland, which have raised generations of black babies and have fed the men who treasure their existence.

I was in the company of the elders, men who like my very own grandfather, passed on the wisdom of lessons learned from walking the earth down to their seeds of their loins. These wise men have dealt with austere weather conditions whether it was in the form of drought, floods or locusts, yet they endure all that the elements hurl to them mercilessly.

And the women and the children danced, oh did they dance! I watched in awe as their bodies, synchronized with each drum beat. I watched their feet stomp the earth sending sound waves and red sand in the air. I held back tears of joy of being the first African American in my family to set foot on the soil affectionately known to us as the “Motherland.”

I wonder if this is how Alex Hailey felt after writing Roots and coming to Africa to meet his ancestors.

This day I will never forget as I am blessed. As the regional mayor of the area said to me after I told him that I was African American, “You are home here too.” Indeed I was.

(Editor’s note Master Sergeant Donald Sparks is currently assigned as the Exercise Flintlock 10 Public Affairs Chief in Mali. He is providing photojournalistic coverage of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara during the special operations forces exercise from Mali, Africa.)

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Pack like it’s Arizona

Major Steven Lamb, U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs wrote

I am a private person; I don’t do Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or any of those other social networking things that have become so prevalent in our society today. The funny thing is I am the acting Social Media Chief for U.S. Africa Command. I like to have my experiences and share them with my kids and family, maybe a pic or two but that is really about it. Thanks to my career as a Soldier, a public affairs officer to be specific, I have had the opportunity to meet lots of interesting and famous people and to see lots of really neat things but most of it is recorded in my mind for my own use and sharing with those closest to me. I don’t collect photos of “Me and so-and-so,” and I only bring up such encounters when I feel it is germane to teaching a lesson or helping us accomplish a mission we are currently working on. Doing a blog about a trip, talking about my feelings or experiences, is foreign to me so please don’t approach this with the idea you will be traipsing down memory lane with a documentary similar to Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom….” you would be sorely disappointed! Ugh, I just dated myself too didn’t I?
OK, so I have been asked by the folks in my office to write a quick blog about my first trip to Africa. I will cover the personal aspects of it because I already had to write the official “story” about the visit anyhow and while telling stories is fun, regurgitating what is already out there is a waste of time to write and worse to read.

I found out I was going to get my first opportunity to travel to the continent around the first part of March. Botswana, Namibia and perhaps one other country were on the list. Needless to say I was very excited. I quickly looked at my calendar to get the timeframe in my mind and to begin laying out the incredible amount of work ahead. Six weeks, not much time to plan. Granted, people from U.S. Africa Command have been going to the continent for the last two years but this was my first trip so I had a head immediately filled with questions, concerns and most importantly ideas of what I needed to do to make this a good trip.

As I said, I am a PA officer so I have the responsibility of preparing the commander and others to engage with the media. This involves a lot of research which ultimately winds up in a 30-40 page read-ahead book full of all sorts of talking points, current news articles, copies of speeches and transcripts and testimony from ambassadors and government leaders among others. We also begin working with the U.S. embassy country teams and any of our own command who happen to be where we are headed. We need to coordinate whatever media coverage we deem appropriate because transparency is a cornerstone to our command’s way of working, and failing to announce a leadership visit would lead to rumors of clandestine bases etc. All of that is, of course, untrue but by being open and inviting the people in we can circumvent such sensational reporting, and it provides us an opportunity to focus on our real reason for visiting. A media roundtable, a press conference, an interview on TV or the radio; there are many possibilities we must consider to ensure the right message is delivered to the right audience, at the right time and with the right medium.

The trip was almost immediately dropped to two countries, Botswana and Namibia, which are both on the southern end of the continent. From here in Germany this means traveling roughly 5,000 miles or flying the length of the United States twice.

The short timeframe meant that I couldn’t possibly get a visa for Namibia so I planned to make the Botswana leg.

Next step, get with the Embassy. Gaborone (pronounced “Hah-ba-ro-nae”) is the capital of Botswana. Army Lt. Col. William “Chris” Wyatt is the Office of Security Cooperation Chief there at the Embassy and his team was incredible. I asked a whole bunch of “new guy to Africa” questions like where they stood with malaria, if there was going to be internet available, what uniforms I needed and what money / exchange requirements there were? I was relieved to discover that if I wanted malaria I needed to go north about “900 miles,” although AFRICOM policy still required I take medications to prevent getting it regardless. I also was pleased to learn that internet was available at the hotel which is critical for my doing my job. I would need both uniforms (wait, I was not pleased about that because size 10W boots take up a lot of space in your luggage), and money could be exchanged at the airport (I know, a no-brainer). The OSC office began to chuckle at some of my personal questions, I was obviously very green.

Finally they told me to “pack like its Arizona.” Well that is easy! I have been there, I vacationed there, I hiked the Grand Canyon with my father there 20 years ago, and I can do Arizona. A desert, no problem!

I packed light; I had to have my normal ACUs (Army Combat Uniform) but also my Class As (our formal jacket and tie type) and I needed some civilian clothes for travel and the evenings. Arizona, desert, short sleeves, light clothing, this is easy.

I arrived in Gaborone in a driving rainstorm. It turns out that they are just entering their winter and it had been ceaselessly raining for the last week. The “desert” was lush with green vegetation; the roads, many of which were unpaved, were chuck full of mud puddles and pot holes. Everything was soaked!

It rained all day, almost every day, until the day I left and that day was beautiful! General Ward, the AFRICOM Commander, was to arrive the day after I did, but visibility was so bad his plane was diverted to Namibia overnight. The next day they had to turn on the lights at the airfield just to land the plane.

Botswana, for this week was no Arizona; not by a long shot.

The trip itself went really well though. I learned a whole lot about the people of Botswana and the Botswana Defense Forces. I also got to try some different traditional African foods like Mielie Pap (a stiff corn meal mix) and spiced chicken. I really gained an appreciation for their spices, fantastic flavors, very rich. The Gaborone Sun Hotel was very comfortable and the service was great. The last day there the OSC folks ushered me around to several shops and markets to get a feel for local crafts and the people. I also was able to pick up some souvenirs for my wife and our six kids that are still at home.

In the long run the trip was a great success. Gen. Ward had the opportunity to meet with media and answer their questions, his visit was well covered and all the media reporting was very positive. He also shot some Public Service Announcements and addressed a large group of BDF officers on Intelligence operations.

On the personal side, I learned the value of doing a bit more research on my target location and also the benefits of being prepared for whatever changes might occur. I am excited about the many opportunities I will have to travel over the next few years because this assignment will open doors and experiences others can only dream about, but here I am getting paid!

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Virginia State University Graduation

Following is a blog from Patrick Barnes, Public Affairs representative, U.S. Africa Command Washington Liaison Office)

On Sunday May 17th, along with several thousand family and friends of the Virginia State University (VSU) graduating class of 2010, I witnessed General William E. Ward receive an honorary Doctorate from VSU President Eddie N.Moore, Jr. Before conferring the degree on the General, Moore read a resolution highlighting the General’s nearly four decades of military service at all levels of command — tactical, operational and strategic. The resolution ended with the following, “Therefore, be it resolved, that Virginia State University confers upon General William E. Ward, The Honorary Degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities appertaining thereto; and be it resolved that the Board of Visitors at its April 16th meeting directed the President of the University to present to General William E. Ward, on the occasion of the One Hundred Twenty-Third Commencement of the University, this resolution as an expression of the high esteem accorded him by the Board of Visitors, the administration, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends of Virginia State University.”

The previous day, nine Army ROTC senior cadets from Virginia State University’s Trojan Battalion, received a once in a lifetime opportunity when General Ward addressed them as their commissioning speaker.

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A Day with a King and Crocodiles

(Note: Sergeant McCarty, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs, is blogging from Camp Baangre in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, while supporting Exercise Flintlock, a multi-national military exercise conducted in various Trans-Saharan countries to develop military capacity of African, American and European participants.)

  Exercise Flintlock participants in Ouagadougou had a day of rest May 17 and many took the opportunity to take a tour of the nearby villages of Bazoule and Kokolongho.

  

Sergeant McCarty and The Crocodile

  

Never Smile at a Crocodile 

We first travelled to Bazoule to bravely visit their local crocodiles. A dozen or so crocs welcomingly crawled out of the water to greet us upon our arrival. I’m no Steve Irwin and was very nervous to willingly seek the company of these animals. When I saw a child’s sandal (no child) on the ground near the crocs’ pond, I really got nervous. The locals assured us the reptiles were pretty friendly (what I was afraid of–them being too friendly). We fed the crocodiles several small chickens just to be more safe (if that even makes sense).

After they had eaten a couple of chickens, I tried my luck and straddled a big croc and sat over him to have my picture taken. I was scared, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to do something so unique. And, of course, I wanted the bragging rights. Then, I made it safely away from “my croc” to watch others being fed.

We learned that the crocs were more than just an attraction to the people of the village. The crocodiles were sacred. They inhabited the area long before it was a village. The people there said they think of the crocs as their ancestors and when one dies they treat it as if one of the villagers has died, even holding a funeral.

The event was a hit for our group and we all left with a story to tell about the magnificent (and friendly) crocodiles of Bazoule.
Our next stop was another sacred place a royal palace in Kokolongho. 

  

The Crocodile

 

   

The King and I 

The Group at The King of Kokolongho's Palace

  

The King of Kokolongho himself greeted us outside his palace when we arrived. We came into his yard, as he called it, and sat around him and his village’s chiefs to hear about his kingdom. Moognaab a Bagoogo is king of 11 villages – a population of around 55,0000.  

He told us about his father, Naaba Boulga, who was the 15th king and constructed the palace in 1942. He died in 1985 after serving 55 years as king. He and his wife were both buried in the king’s yard and were shown to us on the tour.  

Our group also got to see the living quarters of the king and his wife, where her maids cook and prepare meals, where councils were held with the people and disputes between neighbours were heard and resolved.  

The king and his 11 chiefs invited us to sit again with them after our tour for a drink. It is customary when they have visitors to provide them a drink. We were served a choice of cool water or their special millet beer. Millet, a small-seed grain, is a staple food for the Kokolongho people, along with beans and rice. They also brew it into a light-tasting beer that I found quite good. However, rather than drinking the beer from a typical bottle, it was served in bowls.  

We had not only learned about the their history and their culture, but had experienced it firsthand by sharing a homemade drink as part the people’s custom. And for me, it was my first meeting with a king.  

It was a very special day with two unique and new experiences that I am grateful for. The crocodiles of Bazoule and the King of Kokolongho will remain part of my memories of my time in Burkina Faso. 

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U.S. AFRICOM-related news stories for May 14, 2010 (From the Beltway/From and About Africa)

Recent Publications on Morocco,  DR Congo, Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, Libya, Angola,Zambia, Namibia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Darfur, Mozambique.

Morocco, U.S. Marines conduct major exercise (World Tribune)

(Morocco) Morocco and the United States have completed preparations for a major military exercise.

U.S. Congress Clears Anti-LRA Bill (IPS)

(United States) The U.S. Congress has cleared legislation requiring President Barack Obama to devise a strategy over the next six months to help capture the leadership of the Lord’s Revolutionary Army (LRA) and protect the civilian population in four eastern and central African countries from its rampages.

Sudan Peacekeepers Vow to Defend Themselves (AllAfrica)

United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) peacekeepers have warned that they will react in self-defence if they are attacked in the western Sudanese troubled region of Darfur. “We (UNAMID) are going to be very strict in terms of a robust position so that people will be discouraged from even attempting to attack us,” Prof. Gambari, who is also the AU-UN Joint Special Representative in Darfur, told a UN Radio on Tuesday.

For additional relevant articles of interest, go to:

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