“We just had an event we called the Africa Strategic Dialogue, where we created an opportunity to spend time with counterparts from the State Department to discuss respective priorities, and to find ways to work more efficiently and effectively in achieving desired goals,” said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Steven Hummer, U.S. Africa Command Deputy to the Commander for Military Operations.
Military officers and civilian officials from the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom who are students in the Higher Command and Staff Course had an opportunity to hear from U.S. Africa Command senior leaders and staff experts during an afternoon session of briefings conducted at the Rogers Center on Patch Barracks at the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart on March 13.
“We’re glad you’ve come to visit us today, said Hummer to the group of nearly fifty students. “Your presence here gives us another opportunity to create a dialogue in which we can learn about what we might have in common regarding issues like food security, disaster response planning, and training with our African partner militaries who are working to bring stability throughout the continent.”
The Higher Command and Staff Course, which prepares selected officers and officials for higher command and staff appointments, is comparable to the senior military Service staff colleges in the U.S, such as the Army War College and the Naval Post Graduate School.
Serving as a “panel of one” Hummer opened the session by briefly describing the mission, staff structure and programs of the command to the group of approximately fifty students.
He emphasized the importance of relationships and said that building trust and credibility go a long way. He also cautioned about the challenges of maintaining those relationships when something happens to erode that trust. “For example, when we promise C-130 repair parts and getting those parts to where we promised then gets mired in our own bureaucracy – it hurts our relationships,” said Hummer.
The students had many questions, the first of which is one that is often the first question asked of leaders at U.S. Africa Command – on why the command is headquartered in Stuttgart. “It’s the tyranny of time and distance; if we were not in the same time zone or did not have access to flights that can get us back and forth to the continent within a few hours - that would be a top challenge for us. And infrastructure – the cost of building schools and everything to support a community of military and civilians personnel and their families would be costly,” said Hummer. “We think it’s working well here, but that’s not to say that there are not conversations on this at various levels from time to time.”
Part two – staff panel
U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Charles Chiarotti, U.S. Africa Command acting Director for Plans and Strategy (J5) lead a panel of experts from the command in which the UK officers and civilians received more in-depth briefs. Chiarotti said explained that many of the engagements that U.S. Africa Command conducts in Africa go to support disaster response planning and other humanitarian programs, as much as providing support to African militaries seeking to increase their own capabilities for protecting their people and deterring threats to their security.
Responding to a comment from one of the students that the panel from U.S. Africa Command did not look very interagency, Chiarotti said, “We do have a lot of military staff, but we also have a lot of civilians from across government. We work a great deal with our State Department, we work with USAID, we have experts on our staff from all disciplines who help us understand the diversity of cultures, languages, religions, politics, geography; some of them were born in Africa and have joined our team to create understanding among the staff to help build those relationships with our African partners.”
It was an all afternoon session of dialogue that seemed to be over as quickly as it had begun.
When asked what he thought about the opportunity to interact with leaders and experts from U.S. Africa Command, Group Captain David Manning of the Royal Air Force said, “This is absolutely fantastic to be able to visit with U.S. Africa Command, to hear first hand from the people who work with so many countries on the continent. This is the first time students of the HCSC have participated in such a visit and we definitely plan to recommend that this be part of future classes.”
“It’s been great to be able to interact with the U.S. Africa Command staff and to exchange experiences,” said Colonel Charlie Stickland of the Royal Marines. “As budgets shrink, partnerships become even more important.”
The idea to have these military officers and civilian officials in the HCSC class come to U.S. Africa Command came from Damien Rothstein, who works in the command’s Outreach Division (J9).
"As a native Australian, I am keenly interested in engagement, collaboration and sharing between the U.S., the U.K., and Australia, said Rothstein. “Close coordination with the staff of the U.K. Ministry of Defence Joint Services Command and Staff College realised the opportunity for the U.K. cohort to engage in dialogue with their U.S. colleagues on areas of common strategic interest in Africa.
“This inaugural event enabled the U.K. cohort to delve into complex issues such as how U.S. Africa Command interacts with the African Union and bilaterally with African nations, as well as other partners,” said Rothstein. “More specifically, senior leadership shared how U.S. Africa Command views, and is preparing for, specific threats, challenges and potential contingent crises.
“This open and frank discussion positively informed the cohort’s understanding of how command should be enacted at the operational level in alternative theatres of operation. This was the first time the HCSC were able to travel to different commands within Europe and found it extremely valuable to engage directly with senior AFRICOM officials,” said Rothstein.