Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas -- Approximately 20 international officers and senior non-commissioned officers from ten Nations within the United States Africa Command area of responsibility visited Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Feb. 27-28.
Hosted by the 960th Cyberspace Wing, the group was received by the vice commander on the first day of their visit, which was mission-focused and consisted of the 24th Air Force mission briefing, along with those of the 960th CW and its local subordinate units here.
“I hope that you all have enjoyed your time here – I heard reports that you all were a very good class and asked a lot of questions after I left yesterday,” said Col. Harold Linnean, the 960th CW vice commander, with the help of a translator, as the mostly French-speaking group of communications professionals wrapped up the second day of briefings. “We are honored that you came here to visit us, so I want to present each of you with a ‘pièce’ so that you will remember us when you return to your country,” continuing on with a brief explanation of the U.S. Air Force tradition and importance of having a coin on your person at all times.
While the group learned about some of the organizational culture, the purpose of the engagement was to expose African Partners to the U.S. Department of Defense signal and cyber defense key processes and training procedures, with the overarching goal of assisting with the development of an African Partner Signal Force capable of operating and sustaining communication and cyber defense systems. In addition to meeting with U.S. Air Force personnel at JBSA-Lackland, the group also visited the U.S. Army at Ft. Sam Houston here in San Antonio.
“This was my first visit to the United States, and it was a good experience,” said Lt. Matshidiso Morake, who has a communications and electronics engineering background and serves as the officer in charge of a maintenance section within the Botswana Defense Force. “It was good to see how the U.S. Air Force does things as compared to how we do things back at home. There, I do work in the maintenance section, so it was eye-opening getting a chance to learn about the other departments like cyber because we do have a new [cyber] section in our unit.”
The exchange of information and ideas was a commonly valued benefit amongst the group, as another member shared his thoughts on the visit, saying overall it had been a good visit for the group.
“The purpose of this visit for me was to learn how the American Army uses their systems and advanced technology to maintain and enhance their capacity for cybersecurity, said Capt. Helmi Oueslati, a cybersecurity officer in the Army Headquarters of the Tunisian Armed Forces. “We are here to see the systems and products and to come back to our country with these ideas on how to ameliorate ourselves. We can do everything ourselves, we just don’t have the advanced technology to do it, so it has been a good visit for us.”
Day two of their visit was more people-focused with briefings by the Equal Opportunity Office, Sexual Assault and Prevention, Violence Prevention. To close out their second day and wrap up their visit to JBSA-Lackland, the group participated in a Profession of Arms Center of Excellence briefing, titled “What Now?”, which focused on leadership dilemmas and critical thinking in terms of managing the “people” aspect of those in the military.
The group was led by Malgorzata Makuchowski, the USAFRICOM military-to-military program manager, who has led 12 of these military-to-military engagement over the past two years. Of her visit here with the Air Force, she said the goal was to understand the importance of cybersecurity in the cyber domain and how to protect the network in their countries.
“The purpose of this program is to create the platform for the Partners so they can exchange their ideas and practices, discuss how they conduct the business of their countries, and to observe how the United States military is working and take these ideas back to their countries,” Makuchowski said.
She went on to say that another important aspect of the program is to introduce the participants to programs that only the U.S. military has in place, such as the Equal Opportunity, Sexual Assault Prevention and Violence Prevention.
“A lot of these countries don’t have such programs as this in place yet, so this is a good opportunity to do this as a part of this engagement,” said Makuchowski. “One of the things that we have not done in the past so far is the critical thinking exercises in the PACE training, related to ethical dilemmas of the leadership in their career fields,” highlighting a unique benefit of the portion of the exchange hosted here.
The visiting junior service members were one of only two people selected by their countries’ Minister of Defense through the local American Embassy to participate in this military-to-military exchange. They will start their journeys back to their home countries on Saturday.
“[The participants] can provide changes in their countries by being exposed to best practices and military business here,” Makuchowski said. “They can go back and brief their leadership on how business is conducted here in the United States. And on top of this, now they know each other and they know which country is using which equipment because they’ve had this opportunity to meet at once and sit down and talk about the donations they are getting from other countries and discuss what is preventing them from being interoperable.”
Those connections proved true even with this visit when Oueslati shared that he’d previously attended a course at Ft. Gordon, Ga., home of the United States Army Signal Corps, United States Army Cyber Corps, and Cyber Center of Excellence.
“I was in here at Ft. Gordon in 2016 for another course,” Oueslati said. “In my report, I will recite all the techniques and systems I have seen here, but I [also saw] again a friend from a different country who was also here on my previous visit at Ft. Gordon, and that was nice.”
Morake agreed that the networking was a valuable part of the trip, but since this was her first visit the United States, she took note of a few other things about America.
“Back at home, it’s summer, so it’s a bit chilly here for me,” she said. “And the people here are friendly…if they see you looking around or using a map, they come up to you to ask if you need any help. Oh, but the vehicles are huge,” surmising that everyone has them due to the Texas terrain!