Posts Tagged 'Dakar'

June 2010: Engaging with Partner African Militaries

By Command Sergeant Major Mark Ripka, U.S. AFRICOM Senior Enlisted Leader

June 2010 has been a very busy and rewarding month.

Command Sergeant Major Mark S. Ripka, United States Africa Command

Command Sergeant Major Mark S. Ripka, United States Africa Command

I just returned from my final June 2010 trip to Africa. The month started in Morocco with a visit to Exercise African Lion, followed by my first return visit to Liberia since Operation Onward Liberty began in January 2010. In the latter part of June I participated–along with United States Army, Marine Forces, and Air Forces Africa Command Senior Enlisted Leaders–in a Warrant Officer Leader Development Program for the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF). I returned to our headquarters briefly only to travel to Cape Verde to embark on the USS JOHN L. HALL as it transited from Cape Verde to Dakar, Senegal in support of African Maritime Law Enforcement Program and a Search and Rescue Exercise.

Exercise African Lion in Morocco is an annual exercise promoting training interoperability and integration of Royal Armed Forces of Morocco and US Marine Forces. This is my second visit to African Lion. Last year I visited the command post exercise in Agadir; this year I visited the field training and live fire exercise in Tan Tan. Each year the exercise builds on the preceding year’s activities which are what our partner nations are asking us to do in our exercise programs–improving operational capacity. Kudos to Marine Forces Africa for another successful exercise.

From the hot, dry desert in Morocco, I proceeded to the hot, steamy environs of Liberia. This is probably my 6th or 7th trip to Liberia over almost three years–during that time USAFRICOM has been supporting the development of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) under a Security Sector Reform (SSR) Program with US Department of State in the lead. US Department of Defense has been supporting–and continues to support–SSR via Defense Sector Reform focused activities in Liberia. In January 2010 Department of Defense, i.e. USAFRICOM via Marine Forces Africa, established Operation Onward Liberty (OOL). OOL consists of 45-52 US military personnel who partner with the AFL in order to build institutional, operational, and human capacity in the AFL. It’s still too early to attempt measure or assess results but from my discussions with AFL leaders, the OOL cadre is making a difference. We must be patient.

Toward the latter part of the month I departed again to Africa. This time to Sierra Leone to participate in the first WO Leader Development Program sponsored by the Navy Security Assistance Office in Pensacola, Florida. The three week professional military education (PME) program was held at the Horton Academy on the International Military Assistance Training Team (IMATT-UK led) compound in Freetown. Heretofore the Horton Academy hosted only officer PME. What was most profound was to see the WO Leader Development Program and the LTC-MAJ Staff Officer Program come together for several modules of instruction and guest presentations. This integration of officer and WO PME does not occur often, if at all, in Africa. I applaud the RSLAF for agreeing to this initiative; clearly, this could be an example for many to follow. We–the command senior enlisted leaders of US Army, Marine Forces, Air Forces, and AFRICOM–had the privilege of delivering guest presentations to the consolidated classes. These kinds of activities and engagements allow us to improve human/ leadership capacity in partner nations. We should be doing more of these types of engagements.

Finally, I closed out the month’s activities underway on the USS JOHN L. HALL, FFG 32. Each year I attempt to spend dedicated time with each of USAFRICOM’s service components in Africa. Throughout the year during my travels and engagements with partner nation leadership, I often meet US Army, Marine, and Air Force personnel conducting meaningful operational and human capacity building activities in Africa–on land. I don’t normally meet too many Sailors unless I intentionally focus on the maritime domain. So this was my time to focus my energy on our Shipmates. The result–AWESOME. The leaders and crew of the USS JOHN L. HALL FFG 32 out of Mayport, Florida were dedicated, motivated, and professional. We departed Mindelo, Cape Verde and were underway until Dakar, Senegal where I disembarked. While underway the ship conducted limited gunnery and helo operations. I continue to have the greatest admiration and respect for the USN. The Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Program (AMLEP) was abbreviated in Cape Verde but the Search and Rescue Exercise in Senegal was executed. In addition to me, the USS JOHN L. HALL also had two ship-riders from the Cape Verde Coast Guard. I was proud to be considered a Shipmate during our days underway. Here again, another program that improves and builds operational and human capacity in partner nations.

By now, anyone who has been following my blogs knows what guides me during all my engagements with partner nation military forces. It hasn’t changed.

In Africa:

1. Personal relationships are crucial. Everything is personal and this means being on the ground in Africa among Africans.
2. Listen, listen, listen. Talk is cheap. Listening is golden.
3. It’s for the long-term, not short term rotations or arbitrary timelines. Nothing happens quickly in Africa. Much will go wrong. Commitments and perseverance are essential.
4. Understand that actions speak louder than words. The image of America in much of Africa is that of a 20 year old Peace Corps volunteer who lives among the Africans, learns their language, earns little, and is eager to learn.

Look for my next blog in August.

(Command Sergeant Major Mark S. Ripka became United States Africa Command’s senior enlisted leader in November 2007. He previously served as command sergeant major of United States Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia. Command Sergeant Major Ripka holds the highest-ranking enlisted position in the command, serving as the principal enlisted advisor to the commander. You can learn more about CSM Ripka at

This blog is also on U.S. Africa Command’s AFRICOM Dialogue at


TESTIMONY: A Senegalese at the Heart of Distress in Haiti

This blog provides the English translation of an article titled "A Senegalese at the Heart of Distress in Haiti," which features on the work of a Senegalese officer embarked on APS Gunston Hall, currently supporting efforts in Haiti. The author, Aminatou M. DIOP,  was part of a Senegalese journalist delegation who visited U.S. Africa Command headquarters in December. The original article, "TEMOIGNAGE : Un Sénégalais au cœur de la détresse en Haïti,"  can be found at :

January 23, 2010

The USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44), which was to deploy to Africa as part of the Africa Partnership Station (APS)—a maritime security cooperation framework between the United States and some African countries—has suspended her missions and is participating in efforts to assist the Haitian people. Our fellow countryman, Lieutenant Assane Sèye, is among its multinational crew (made up of Americans, Europeans, and Africans). Yesterday, he gave an interview over the phone to the Senegalese Press Agency, the RFM, and the Le Quotidien daily. These media outlets came to the embassy of the United States in Dakar after the sailor made sure that his hierarchical superiors were informed of the interview.

The American ship, the USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44), is expected in Dakar in April. But last week’s earthquake in Haiti changed the ship’s initial itinerary. The vessel was rerouted to Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, on a humanitarian mission. On January 15, the ship left its military base at Little Creek–Story, in Virginia, to take part in the humanitarian assistance the U.S. Navy is bringing to the Haitian population. A young Senegalese sailor, Lieutenant Assane Sèye is a member of the ship’s crew.  The U.S. embassy in Senegal telephoned Lt. Assane Sèye.  While on board the USS Gunston Hall (it was 11:40 a.m. in Senegal and 6:40 a.m. in Port-au-Prince), Lt. Assane Sèye, spoke about the time he has spent in that country since January 18. “We’re a few nautical miles from the military base. Each morning we leave the ship to go on land and we return at night.”

The military base has thus been transformed into a hospital with all necessary structures for first aid, surgical procedures, and hospitalizations; it is a clinic. In the event of evacuations, “we have a hospital ship that can receive 600 patients who are taken there by U.S. Army helicopters.” In the four days they have been there, “we have had nearly 200 patients transferred to the hospital ship,” says Lt. Sèye, who is impressed by the number of patients admitted each day.

100 Times More Emergency Cases than in the Main [Hospital]

Some patients come on foot or by ambulance belonging to the various local humanitarian organizations and have suffered various traumas, “sometimes with both arms or legs broken. Some of them come because they no longer have any sensation in their limbs or because they were stuck somewhere for days, are completely dehydrated…There are a number of unimaginable wounds.” When we ask about the situation on the ground, Lt. Sèye answers: “Take for example the emergencies at Dakar’s main hospital and multiply by 100, the influx of incoming patients and multiply that by 100, that’s the severity of the problems. It’s something you can’t exactly wrap your mind around, even if I describe it to you.” He insists: “These are things that I personally have never seen. You have to be here to believe it.” A rather difficult case was that of a lady who “gave birth in extremely complicated and difficult conditions…You can’t imagine how happy we were to see mother and baby safe!” stated Lt. Sèye.

Work is also made difficult by the number of patients who come in each minute, just to be treated, to get information because they do not know where to go, or who even want to leave Haiti, he explains. He indicates that upon arrival they have to go through triage and, depending on the case, are referred to specialists. “Those with physical wounds requiring hospitalization or evacuation” are the priority. The most difficult are those with lesser afflictions who have to free their hospital bed since there are also rows of chairs to accommodate some, just to give them time to rest and to receive something to eat and drink. “But, in the evening, these people have to leave because we have to control the hospital.” And managing them is complicated. However, “when they see sick people lying on the ground, they understand that they need to give up the bed. But once outside the clinic or the hospitalization room, a lot of diplomacy is needed to make them leave the base” where grassy areas have been set up where they can lie down, says Lt. Sèye, who is in charge of convincing them. At the end of the day, “I always manage to convince them even if this is not easy since those spaces cannot accommodate big numbers.”

The volunteers are another problem, he continues. “Somebody who loses everything, who leaves his home and walks for kilometers to say, ‘I want to help,’ doesn’t understand when we say that we have enough volunteers. Each morning we see 200 volunteers, but we work with 50 volunteers including professors, doctors, sociologists, etc. But we have limited their number to better channel the work.”

How long will the assistance last? “For now, the system put in place to help the Haitians is working very well. Consequently, the influx is stronger. But whether we will be leaving in a week or two, I don’t know.”

Senegalese Pride

Designated by the Senegalese navy, Lieutenant Assane Sèye joined the team of the Africa Command of the United States (AFRICOM) on board the USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) on January 9, in Virginia, in the United States. The USS Gunston Hall was expected this April in Spain,  West Africa, and Dakar, for drills and operations. But the earthquake in Haiti occurred and the ship was diverted to Port-au-Prince. An unplanned mission that this Senegalese soldier says he experiences “it is difficult to see these people on the ground, suffering, who need to eat, who need water and medical assistance. Whatever your knowledge, whatever the means at your disposal, you are limited when faced with them. You can’t do everything. You treat them and then they have to leave. It’s difficult. Later, they have to eat and we don’t have food and something to drink for everyone. It’s very difficult.” However, there are nice moments within all this chaos stemming from the pleasure of being there and helping the Haitians. “Because I consider them to be my brothers, Africans. So it’s a tremendous pleasure to be here, but it pains me very much to see them in these circumstances. You have to see the city yourself. It’s completely devastated.”

In any event, this young 29-year-old Senegalese is a model of pride—not only for the Senegalese. This is proven by the testimony of the USS Gunston Hall’s (LSD 44) onboard commander, Captain Cynthia Thebaud, who is full of praise for our fellow countryman: “Lt. Sèye carries out invaluable tasks by interacting with the Haitian patients as well as those who accompany them, and by coordinating the team of Haitian volunteers who have come to help us in our mission. He’s proactive, very engaged, and has an amazing disposition. He gives the impression of being everywhere, continuously coordinating, etc.”

Enlisted in the Senegalese Army in 2005, Lt. Sèye and the Africa Partnership Station (APS) are responsible for coordinating instructors, following up on programs, and checking whether the teaching is done properly. During the Haitian mission, he is in charge of managing Haitian volunteers at the hospital set up at the American military base.

The Africa Partnership Station provides a cooperation framework set up by the United States that seeks to establish maritime safety and security in African partner states. It organizes military and civil capacity-building drills involving those units in charge of watching over the maritime territories of the said countries, awareness sessions on the protection of fishery resources, and the sharing of expertise in various maritime areas.

By Aminatou M. DIOP

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