Thirty-three senior noncommissioned officers and warrant officers from 24 African nations gathered at the Edelweiss Conference Center in Garmisch, Germany to kick off a week long Joint Warrant Officer and Senior Non-commissioned Officer Symposium (JWOS) hosted by U.S. Africa Command.
“I feel very great and excited to be here,” said Master Sergeant William F. Tabolo, from the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). “I am happy for the privilege and opportunity to come and interact with different militaries around Africa. It is a great honor for me to be here to participate in this program.”
Fostering professional dialogues that will help the U.S. and Africa to grow their militaries together is a primary goal of the symposium. JWOS is an annual program designed to provide opportunities for African warrant officers, senior non-commissioned and petty officers to learn, share, grow and discuss topics that collectively support strengthening African defense capabilities.
The goal is to bring enlisted military leaders – considered to be the backbone of any military - together to build partnerships and address institutional capabilities.
In his opening statement, Command Chief Master Sergeant Jack Johnson Jr., Command Senior Enlisted Leader (CSEL), U.S. Africa Command, said the symposium affords opportunities to build strong relationships and trust which can result in strong bonds among militaries that face similar challenges.
“We believe that this symposium will be successful in its effort to find workable strategies to address African security challenges because everyone’s perspective is important,” Johnson said. “Success will only be achieved if there is honest analysis, assessment, and dialogue about security challenges facing the African continent. We believe firmly in the African proverb, ‘if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together,’ which emphasizes our purpose here this week. Make no doubt about it, the U.S. Africa Command and African partners want to go far.”
As the senior enlisted leader, Johnson provides assessments and recommendations to the U.S. Africa Command’s senior leaders on development capabilities of African warrant officers, petty officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and how the command can assist and enable strong partnerships with African partners to strengthen capabilities and address mutual priorities.
During the week long symposium, scheduled for May 19-24, U.S. and African partners have the opportunity to share, in a non-attribution environment, knowledge about challenges and opportunities of their militaries in addressing security sector issues.
Other topics scheduled for discussion include U.S. foreign policy in Africa; the roles of senior NCOs and warrant officers; and military support to economic development, and humanity and humanitarian challenges.
Also participating in the symposium is Command Chief Master Sergeant Craig A. Adams, Command Senior Enlisted Leader, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, who said, “This is a great opportunity for all of us to get together with our partners in Africa. We are learning from them how they operate. We are sharing our experiences with them so they can learn how we operate. These shared experiences and learning opportunities teach us how to become a more capable and advanced force for our respective militaries. It’s great to see our own senior professional military leaders spend time with our African partners, and learn more about their culture and some of the opportunities and challenges they are facing - and how we can all grow together.”
Plenary sessions on each topic will be held, led by experts in the field to facilitate knowledge sharing among the participants and subject matter experts through open discussions.
Before arriving, Tabolo said his expectation for the conference was very high because he was looking forward to learning from people with years of experience in working with Africans and sharing ideas together with African’s senior NCOs.
“I knew we were coming here to meet people with vast experience, and I knew I could learn from them,” he said. “Especially with Liberia just coming out of wars and with a new army, there was a great need for me to come and experience and learn from some of these brothers that we will be interacting with, so that we can build our own leadership abilities.”
Like Tabolo, most of the Africans, who were attending an AFRICOM-organized event for the first time, had various expectations. But a common expectation they all shared was a desire to learn more about U.S. Africa Command.
As the program unfolded, their curiosities were quelled after receiving an overview of the command’s mission from Command Chief Johnson. The first-time participants reflected that Chief Johnson’s brief helped them better understand the role of U.S. Africa Command and its mission in Africa.
“After the briefing from Command Chief Johnson, it made some of us, the visiting countries to know what AFRICOM is about, and it gave us a great insight on the mission of AFRICOM in Africa,” said Tobolo. “My take-away from this meeting is an understanding of how AFRICOM intends to collaborate with African nations to fight piracy, to deal with conflicts and how to respond to emergencies. In effect, we understood how we can respond, as Africans, to our own emergencies, and how we can be able to manage our own affairs.”
A capstone event concludes the week-long symposium with the participants touring the U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr, which, according to Johnson, will provide the African warrant officers and senior NCOs an opportunity to see a professional field environment in which the American military trains and operates.
The African participants expressed gratitude to the organizers for putting the event together and stated they were eager to continue to build relationships throughout the week’s events.
“The wisdom you have already shared with us will sojourn with us to the end of our career, and we will take whatever we learn home to help our other colleagues,” said Warrant Officer Patson Mwanakanje, a member of the Zambian Army headquarters.