Ten journalists from Botswana and Malawi got an in-depth look at U.S. Africa Command during a visit to the AFRICOM headquarters Nov. 17-21, 2014.
The journalists, consisting of radio, television and newspaper reporters, along with a military public affairs officer from each country, attended as part of the AFRICOM Media Delegation Program. Run by the AFRICOM Office of Public Affairs, the program enhances African journalists’ understanding of the command’s mission, operations, programs and engagements on the African continent.
“This visit has been quite impressive, and we’ve learned a lot,” said Veronica Mwale from Malawi. “In Africa, we have different views of what the U.S. military is all about.” According to her, most Africans form their opinion of the U.S. military based on what they read on the internet and see in the movies.
But after the visit, the delegation gained firsthand knowledge of what AFRICOM is about.
The five-day conference, which included briefings and discussions with various AFRICOM staff members, concluded with an opportunity for the media delegation to meet and interview AFRICOM senior leaders.
U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Steven A. Hummer, deputy to the commander for military operations, and U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Darrin Bohn, the command’s senior enlisted leader, answered questions on various topics during an on-the-record interview.
“We are glad to have you here,” Hummer said to the journalists. “I think this is a great program. You support our freedoms, freedom of speech - freedom of the press; rights we believe that are inherent to mankind. So it is important that we here at AFRICOM have this program and invite people to participate. Along with that I think it is very important that we build partnerships and good relations, and I think you've done that this week.”
During the conference, representatives from the command’s directorates discussed topics related to U.S. military engagement and assistance programs with Botswana, Malawi and other African militaries.
Journalists also met with the command’s surgeon, Navy Capt. David Weiss, who talked about the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak and what role the U.S. military is playing in the U.S. Agency for International Development-led effort to combat the spread of the virus in affected West African countries.
"What struck me most about AFRICOM is the genuineness of the information that I have been getting," said Reginald Richardson, a DJ with Botswana’s GABZ FM. "Everybody we've been talking to, including all officials from the different components of AFRICOM, has been really genuine about what they do and AFRICOM’s interests on the continent.”
The delegation also visited the Stuttgart studio of the American Forces Network (AFN). AFN coordinates television and radio broadcasts for American military communities across Europe and in deployment locations including Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti.
The group then toured Stuttgart Army Air Field, where they got a close-up look and took photos of aircraft on the flight line.
“In my country, I don’t get to go into a military base or take pictures of the aircraft because everything is so secretive,” said Richardson. “This trip shows the openness and transparency of the U.S. military.”
A dinner, hosted by Maj. Gen. Michael J. Kingsley, AFRICOM chief of staff, allowed the journalists to socialize and network with their counterparts in the AFRICOM public affairs office.
Mwale, who was attending a U.S.-organized event outside her country for the first time, said it was a great privilege to meet and interact with members of AFRICOM during the trip to Germany.
She added that one of the benefits of the visit is that the journalists will be able to spread the “good news” and their newly found knowledge of the command and its engagements on the African continent.
“I’ve learned a lot from this trip, and I am not the only one who will learn from it” Mwale said. “My friends and colleagues from Malawi and other south African countries will also have an opportunity to learn from it because I will be able to share with them what I have learned, and what the U.S. military is about.”
For more photos, visit our Botswana and Malawi Media Delegation Flickr Album