Partnerships are at the center of U.S. Africa Command's engagements to create a framework to support and sustain long-term cooperation. AFRICOM has grounded this ethos in a program focusing on enlisted service members from partner nations.
"The NCOs are the backbone of the force. A solid NCO corps that knows the tenets and rules of law, legitimate civil control and human rights, means a more stable force," said Army Sergeant Major Samuel W. Metzger of AFRICOM's J-5 Strategy, Plans and Programs directorate. "With a stable military that is paid well and with decent benefits and good education, the forces will be more mission focused."
Facilitating professional enlisted development for African Noncommissioned Officers (NCO), Petty Officers and Warrant Officers is a priority for the command's senior NCOs, championed by U.S. Air Force Chief Master Jack Johnson Jr., the command's senior enlisted leader.
"When you look to your left and you see a strong Petty Officer or NCO, someone who understands the issues and the direction you are trying to go, who is well disciplined and well trained, that person is in the best position to give you the necessary guidance," said Johnson.
The partnership with AFRICOM helps expand knowledge and provides the educational resources to accompany that knowledge. The capstone program is the annual Joint Warrant Officer and Senior NCO Symposium (JWOS). More than 40 African countries have been involved with this initiative.
"Building partner capacity begins with collaboration," Johnson added.
"These strong defense force and regimental-level African Sergeant's Majors,
Warrant Officers, Adjutant Chefs and Sergeants bring to the table a considerable amount of experience, training, strength, courage and professionalism. There is strength in numbers and the JWOS provides the best overarching venue to grow together."
According to Johnson, the goal of the AFRICOM effort is not to show African militaries the American way or the expectations of the United States. He said it is a partnership in which everyone shares thoughts and ideas, and the best place to start is with the enlisted service members.
The vast majority of U.S. military training engagements, exchanges, and exercises with African partners are led and conducted by noncommissioned officers and petty officers. These small team events include a wide spectrum of activities, including unit and individual training and leadership concepts, preventive medicine, logistics planning, and a variety of technical skills.
"The enlisted corps' NCOs and Petty Officers remain attuned to the blind spot for their officers," Johnson said. "We are out with the troops. We are raised with the troops. We understand that from the foundation of a mission there is the probability that there is an NCO or Petty Officer who executed that mission. They know the mission, so relying on them, giving them the status and authority and equal accountability for mission success is very important."
One challenge within African militaries is a lack of resources to develop programs similar to the United States' enlisted academies, and AFRICOM tries to assist where possible. Despite this challenge, Johnson insisted that African militaries continue to develop and find creative ways to achieve their mission.
"They persevere," Johnson said, citing one of their strengths. "In our country, we are very fortunate that we have the ways, means and the will. In many African countries, they have the will power, but they might not have the ways and means, so they find innovative ways of being effective to serve their particular militaries."
They also take advantage of the professional development, exercises and training opportunities with AFRICOM as a mechanism to improve capacity and capabilities, he added.
"I get feedback almost every single day from our African partners," said Johnson. "First and foremost, the one thing they want is to stay connected."
While AFRICOM maintains communications with its African partners, on occasion, AFRICOM also serves as the conduit between African partner nations.
Johnson recalls a conversation where one NCO asked, "Are there other countries that face some of the same challenges?" The NCO wanted Johnson to put them in contact with each other so together, they could find a solution.
"So it is not about American ways; its Africans finding African ways," Johnson added. "We are just very fortunate to have the ability to facilitate and help in that situation."