MONROVIA, Liberia - Fresh off the celebration of 25 years with its European state partner, Latvia, members of the Michigan National Guard dedicated time to their African partner, Liberia. The visit allowed for Maj. Gen. Gregory J. Vadnais, adjutant general and director of military and veterans affiars, Michigan National Guard, to see the progress the Armed Forces of Liberia are making across the country.
While at the Edward Binyah Kesselly (EBK) military training facility in Monrovia, Vadnais was able to see the completed construction of two new multipurpose buildings that Soldiers from the 1434th and 1430th Engineer Companies built in 2016. Vadnais was also able to see the recently renovated laboratory and medical clinic with its state of the art testing materials and equipment.
In 2016 the Department of Defense HIV/Aids Prevention Program was awarded $30,000 to renovate the lab at the EBK medical clinic. The previous building was in very poor condition. The funds were not sufficient enough to hire a contractor to conduct the renovation so the assistance of the AFL Engineer Company was requested.
The AFL engineers were able to complete the renovation to include wiring a solar power system to ensure that the laboratory refrigerators would have round-the-clock power. The lab is now up and running and able to provide better care and faster diagnoses to not only AFL Soldiers but to their families and the community around EBK as well.
"By all accounts the Armed Forces of Liberia is making outstanding progress across the board. The multi-purpose buildings and the renovated laboratory will service the AFL, families and community members for many years to come," said Vadnais. "There is positive progress everywhere and it is wonderful to see."
During a visit to the Linda Thomas Greenfield Preparatory School, Edward Biyan Kesseley Barracks, Schiefflin, Margibi County, Liberia, Vadnais was presented with a plaque in appreciation of his support to the EBK facility and the families of the AFL. The children greeted him in their classrooms and showed him what they were currently learning.
Also part of the trip was to stop at the Armed Forces Training Center for a presentation of the current training situation for the AFL. The AFTC is modeled after Michigan’s Regional Training Institute. They host basic training for new AFL Soldiers, officer and noncommissioned officer training, and the new AFL Peacekeeping course.
All AFL Soldiers will attend the Peacekeeping course prior to deployment to Mali, in support of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali. Currently, the AFL deploys approximately 75 Soldiers in support of the mission. Up until recently, Liberia had been an importer of security with the United Nations Mission following the 12 years of civil war in the country. Less than 10 years later, and the country has become an exporter of security.
The Armed Forces of Liberia suffered its first fatality in support of the mission on the last rotation. Realizing the impact this loss would have on the AFL force, they have decided to implement resiliency training as part of the pre-mobilization and post-mobilization of the soldiers returning from mission. The Michigan National Guard, in conjunction with United States Army Africa and United States Africa Command, will be assisting with the development and training of resiliency to the AFL force in September.
"We have realized the need for resiliency training in our Soldiers andwant to ensure we are taking all of the steps necessary to make our Soldiers not just physically strong, but mentally strong as well," said Lt. Col. Kezelee Gwesa, commander of the Liberian Armed Forces Training Command.
The Michigan National Guard, along with the Regional Training Institute, played a role in the development of the AFL Officer Candidate School.. Although the AFL will not hold an OCS course every year, the Michigan National Guard is working to bring AFL military instructors to the state run Officer Candidate School in Augusta, Michigan.
U.S. Ambassador to Liberia Christine Elder, Vadnais, and Ambassador Alexander Laskaris, the deputy to the commander for civil military engagement, U.S. Africa Command, were presented with traditional Liberian clothing by the Liberian Minister of Defense Daniel Ziankhan, and Maj. Gen. Prince Johnson III, cheif of staff, AFL, during a ceremony. The guests of honor were also given traditional Liberian names. Vadnais was given the name of Tarnue, which in Liberia means "town owner." The AFL felt this name fitting in the fact that many of the efforts that Vadnais has advocated for over the years are now coming to bear, to include the initiative of giving the AFL full control of its own budget.
In both partner countries, it is important to be involved with the local communities.Latvian military has also partnered with the AFL and has completed develpmental projects in the region.
During this year’s visit, Vadnais and Command Sgt. Maj. Dale Clarmont, senior enlisted leader, Michigan Army National Guard, met with leaders involved in Liberian orphanages to assess their challenges and needs for a local Liberian orphanage that has been adopted by the Michigan National Guard.
Many children live in the orphanages and share a very small space, and during the recent rainy season the buildings become damaged which exposes the children to the elements, according to Isabel Kargbo, a local orphanage housemother.
Potential courses of action were discussed with plans to allow for more potential work with the two engineer companies from both entities.
"The State Partnership Program is not just about military support to our partners but a whole of government and community. By supporting local community and conducting service projectswithin the country it continues to show our support to not only the Armed Forces of Liberia, but to the Liberian people as well," said Maj. David Huber, the State Partnership Program coordinator for the Michigan National Guard.
The Michigan National Guard is one of few states to have two partnership countries through the Department of Defense Partnership for Peace Program. Michigan is celebrating its twenty-fifth year of partnership with Latvia, and will celebrate 10 years in 2019 with Liberia.