U.S. Africa Command hosted a virtual Africa Senior Enlisted Conference on July 15, 2021, bringing together the top enlisted leaders from 20 African nations, U.S. National Guard state partners, and U.S. Africa and European Commands to discuss the development and education of enlisted leaders.
“Your professional armed forces are the foundation of our shared vision of a more secure, stable and prosperous Africa,” said U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command, during opening remarks. “In the view of the U.S. military a strong, professional corps of non-commissioned officers – strong sergeants and petty officers – should be the backbone of any armed force.”
The conference, part of Townsend’s Africa Enlisted Development Strategy, shed light on how partner nations can utilize state partnerships and International Military and Education Training funds to enhance knowledge and develop skills needed to strengthen professional militaries.
“This is not an enlisted program, this is Gen. Townsend’s program on how he sees effective military-to-military engagement with our African partners through the enlisted force,” said U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Richard Thresher, command senior enlisted leader, U.S. Africa Command. “The whole reason of the Africa Enlisted Development Strategy and why it exists is to enable, to advise, to assist, to train our African partners.”
More than 60 participants learned how to apply to U.S. military professional military education programs, and the criteria required to attend various NATO and allied professional development schools.
Successful candidates recently accepted to these programs include the first-ever non-commissioned officer from the Kenya Defence Forces attending the U.S. Army’s Sergeants Major Academy, and a Royal Moroccan Armed Forces NCO accepted into the Swiss Armed Forces NCO Intermediate Course.
“Through these training opportunities, our partners can get a look at how other countries train, and how they use their own NCO corps,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Scott Haymaker, senior enlisted leader for Strategy, Engagement and Programs Directorate and Africa Enlisted Development Strategy planner.
Another important contributor to NCO development in Africa is the State Partnership Program, fostered through the U.S. National Guard Bureau to build relationships that enhance global security, understanding and cooperation.
“If you have an assigned state U.S. partner, they are big proponent of our enlisted development strategy,” Thresher said.
State partnership has fostered several institutions of excellence – where NCOs can train and learn –including in Liberia, with the help of the Michigan National Guard, and Kenya, with the Massachusetts National Guard. According to Thresher, any country may request support to develop these partnerships, after which an advisor would begin the process of identifying infrastructure and understanding where development gaps exist.
“We help with curriculum refinement, instructor training and providing ideas to assist our African partners in developing their NCOs,” Thresher said. “The proof is in the structure – the most relevant militaries in the world have an empowered, educated and relevant NCO corps."
“I don’t do anything important without one or more sergeants alongside of me,” Townsend said. “Through consistent engagement with your Chiefs of Defense and senior leaders, I stress the importance of developing trusted NCOs that shape, inspire and lead their professional armed forces.”