GRAINAU, Germany – Senior Enlisted Leaders from 20 African partner nations, the U.S., and NATO participated in the inaugural Senior Enlisted Leader Conference hosted by U.S. Africa Command, Nov. 6-10, 2017 in Grainau, Germany.
“The primary goal of the conference is synchronization between the African partners and U.S. and NATO personnel that have stakes in the region,” said U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Ramon Colon-Lopez, command senior enlisted leader, U.S. Africa Command. “This is just a forum for all of us to sit down together and learn from each other in order to enhance the security in the Africa.”
The African continent is an extremely complex environment and African militaries face many challenges, he said. “I found that the conversation from the senior enlisted was missing. Increasing the capacity of African partner non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps will assist in the overall effectiveness of those nations dealing with those complexities.”
Empowering enlisted leaders is important
During the conference a common question was how African partners should approach the task of increased capacity and leadership roles in their nation’s defense forces.
Military forces have more enlisted personnel than officers. This is key in understanding how to enhance African partner military capacities, according to Chief Master Sgt. of the U.S. Air Force Kaleth Wright.
“Having strong senior enlisted leaders who are ready and capable of leading enlisted men into dangerous things are important,” Wright said.
Senior Enlisted leaders have the responsibility to advise their bosses. In order to gain credibility and trust in military officers, it’s important to invest time and resources into developing senior enlisted leaders, he said.
“What we’ve seen is that our greatest competitive advantage as the U.S. military is our empowered enlisted leaders,” said U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
It’s important to develop enlisted leaders to be able to execute commander’s intent, to instill discipline in junior troops, and to take initiative using agile and adaptive thinking, Troxell said. “That doesn’t just happen. That comes through training, education, and thereby, trust.”
One of the ways African partners are taking on this challenge is through sending their enlisted leaders to the NCO professional development institutions of partner nations.
“We sometimes send our senior NCOs to the advance course in Malawi, and sometimes we send NCOs to an EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) course in Kenya,” said Forces Sgt. Maj. Elvidge Serumola, senior enlisted leader, Botswana Defence Force.
“NCOs are the cement that hold together the top officers and the junior enlisted troops, so it’s important to develop NCOs,” said Warrant Officer Abu Bakerrkamara, 4th Infantry Brigade Sergeant Major, Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces. “If NCOs are not empowered, the commissioned officers and the troop’s missions are more prone to fail.”
Overcoming violent extremist organizations
Amongst the challenges of enhancing African partner military enlisted forces is the cultural, intellectual, and economic challenges of their countries. These challenges include access to basic goods, services, education and overcoming violent extremist organizations (VEOs).
“A lot of countries are struggling with VEOs and unstable governments and we believe that when you have proper security in the region it facilitates a lot of the right things that need to get done,” said Colon-Lopez. “A lack of opportunity makes the younger generation more likely to become involved with VEOs, who promise money and resources.”
“Major drivers of people going to extremist organizations is number one, they don’t think they have a legitimate government, and number two they’re not provided with services,” said Maureen Shauket, senior development advisor, U.S. Africa Command.
Overcoming cultural challenges regarding gender integration
Cori Fleser, gender advisor, U.S. Africa Command J5, spoke about gender integration in the military and the value of having a diverse force.
“We discussed the need to support the policies, procedures, training, and education that facilitates the growth of diversity within military forces,” she said.
Every African nation is different based on culture, religion, ethnicity, region, and language but the importance must be placed on strong leadership, Fleser said.
“Senior NCOs as leaders can uphold a standard that supports the career progression of both men and women. They can address and model behaviors to combat sexual harassment, discrimination, and fraternization.” said Fleser. “The way they handle those issues is instrumental. It’s important to model good behavior of professionalism, and not show preferential treatment.”
“If you want to develop the nation you must develop women in the country,” Bakerrkamara said. “So, this is why it’s important to overcome long-standing cultural beliefs regarding women in the military and in leadership roles.”
State partnerships successes and forward momentum in Africa One of the ways the U.S. has assisted with enhancing various African partner enlisted leadership is through the U.S. National Guard’s State Partnership Program.
“The State Partnership Program develops long standing partnerships between states and host nations,” said U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Swart, command senior enlisted leader, North Carolina National Guard.
The North Carolina National Guard is partnered with Botswana and is one of 13 state partnerships in Africa.
Last year, North Carolina National Guard conducted 41 engagements with Botswana Defense Force, according to Swart.
“We trained together on everything from patrolling, intelligence, gender integration, marksmanship, staff NCO development, aircraft maintenance, counter terrorism, and crew chief and loadmaster training,” he said.
“We helped assist them with developing several NCO courses,” he said. “In a short period of time they’ve made a lot of progress.”
Botswana military leadership has expressed the desire to make their NCO leadership courses accredited, Swart said.
“Becoming accredited will help them find out their shortcomings and will create an institute of excellence,” he said.
Building lasting partnerships
U.S. Africa Command plans to continue partnering with military forces across African nations, in order to help find solutions to enhance the enlisted forces across the continent, Colon-Lopez said.
“This is the start of a dialog and relationship that we need to continue as we move forward,” said U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, commander, U.S. Africa Command.
“I’m very much glad to be a part of this program this is the time when we establish our relationships with other senior enlisted leaders,” said Warrant Officer One George Bisalomu, Malawi Defence Force Sergeant Major. “This conference allows us to meet and share our experiences and successes and challenges across our defense forces."
"When I first came to this conference I came with the best interests of my country," Serumola said. "Now, after this conference I realize that I am an NCO for Africa, not just my country."