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Re-entering the Water: Liberia's New Coast Guard
A small team from the newly formed Liberian Coast Guard successfully launched, for the first time, a Zodiac boat off of Bushrod Island, the historic home of the Liberian maritime forces, March 25, 2010. <br /> <br />The event was historic for the
MONROVIA, Liberia - U.S. Coast Guard Commander Jennifer Ketchum, of the Monrovia Office of Security Cooperation, speaks with Petty Officer 2nd Class Dickson Agbo (center) and other members of the Liberian Coast Guard just prior to their first successful boat launch of a Zodiac boat.  Ketchum is a U.S. Coast Guard reservist serving a two year assignment in Liberia providing assistance and guidance to the new Liberian Coast Guard.  (Photo by Nicole Dalrymple, U.S. Africa Command)
2 photos: U.S. AFRICOM Photo
Photo 1 of 2: MONROVIA, Liberia - U.S. Coast Guard Commander Jennifer Ketchum, of the Monrovia Office of Security Cooperation, speaks with Petty Officer 2nd Class Dickson Agbo (center) and other members of the Liberian Coast Guard just prior to their first successful boat launch of a Zodiac boat. Ketchum is a U.S. Coast Guard reservist serving a two year assignment in Liberia providing assistance and guidance to the new Liberian Coast Guard. (Photo by Nicole Dalrymple, U.S. Africa Command) Download full-resolution version
MONROVIA, Liberia - At a ceremony marking Liberia&#39;s 53rd Annual Armed Forces Day, Lieutenant Junior Grade Stephen Mulbah, commanding officer of the Liberian Coast Guard, accepts the unit&#39;s new guidon from Major General S.A. Abdurrahman, a Nigerian officer responsible for the Armed Forces of Liberia under an international agreement.  (Photo by Commander Jennifer Ketchum, Monrovia Office of Security Cooperation)
2 photos: U.S. AFRICOM Photo
Photo 2 of 2: MONROVIA, Liberia - At a ceremony marking Liberia's 53rd Annual Armed Forces Day, Lieutenant Junior Grade Stephen Mulbah, commanding officer of the Liberian Coast Guard, accepts the unit's new guidon from Major General S.A. Abdurrahman, a Nigerian officer responsible for the Armed Forces of Liberia under an international agreement. (Photo by Commander Jennifer Ketchum, Monrovia Office of Security Cooperation) Download full-resolution version
MONROVIA, Liberia - U.S. Coast Guard Commander Jennifer Ketchum, of the Monrovia Office of Security Cooperation, speaks with Petty Officer 2nd Class Dickson Agbo (center) and other members of the Liberian Coast Guard just prior to their first successful boat launch of a Zodiac boat.  Ketchum is a U.S. Coast Guard reservist serving a two year assignment in Liberia providing assistance and guidance to the new Liberian Coast Guard.  (Photo by Nicole Dalrymple, U.S. Africa Command)
MONROVIA, Liberia - At a ceremony marking Liberia&#39;s 53rd Annual Armed Forces Day, Lieutenant Junior Grade Stephen Mulbah, commanding officer of the Liberian Coast Guard, accepts the unit&#39;s new guidon from Major General S.A. Abdurrahman, a Nigerian officer responsible for the Armed Forces of Liberia under an international agreement.  (Photo by Commander Jennifer Ketchum, Monrovia Office of Security Cooperation)
A small team from the newly formed Liberian Coast Guard successfully launched, for the first time, a Zodiac boat off of Bushrod Island, the historic home of the Liberian maritime forces, March 25, 2010.

The event was historic for the unit of 49 men and one woman, which was activated just more than a month earlier at Liberia's 53rd Annual Armed Forces Day in Monrovia.

At the activation ceremony, coast guard members marched in formation onto Monrovia's Barclay Training Center parade field. Standing at attention in their new white uniforms, a strong contrast to the sea of green fatigues worn by soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), the coast guard received its charge from Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and its guidon.

After a decade's long absence from the water, the coast guard's activation signaled Liberia's commitment to reestablish its presence on its territorial waters.

"What is especially significant this Armed Forces Day is the reactivation of the Liberian National Coast Guard…," Sirleaf said during the ceremony. "Under the 2008 National Defense Act, we are obliged to develop and re-establish our capacity to man our territorial waters. The coast guard has a mandate to improve the security of our coastline and control smuggling and illegal fishing. I congratulate you, the members of the coast guard, who have pledged to safeguard Liberia's territorial waters."

Watching from the stands that day, and also looking on with pride the day of the boat launch, was U.S. Coast Guard Commander Jennifer Ketchum, who works out of U.S. Africa Command's (AFRICOM) Monrovia Office of Security Cooperation, responsible for coordinating all security cooperation engagements between the U.S. and Liberia.

"This is a great job," she said, "being able to see and measure success and help the Liberians."

"This is the first we've had the boat out and I'm so excited I just can't tell you," said Ketchum. "A lot of training has come before this and I'm just really proud of the guys today for getting out here and launching the boat."

She further explained that training is being done in stages and phases that build upon one another.

"When they are able to do tasks well it builds their confidence that they can do something bigger," she said.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Dickson Agbo, who is the highest enlisted member of the coast guard, is a boatswain's mate. He recently attended specialist training in Yorktown, Va. When asked about his experience in Yorktown, Agbo said the course gave him the basics and a clear picture of what a boatswain's mate does and, "also makes me think that 'Yes, I can do it.'"

Agbo was overseeing the men on March 25 as they prepared to launch the Zodiac. He explained that the goal of the day was to check the effectiveness of the boat's outboard motor in preparation for upcoming training for small boat operations.

Throughout the next three years the United States government will provide $5 million worth of training, equipment and infrastructure to the new coast guard, according to Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to Liberia.

The coast guard's base on Bushrod Island is being re-established and is undergoing improvements that are being executed and overseen by a unit of U.S. Navy Seabees from the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Seven out of Gulfport, Miss. The team is working on three major infrastructure construction projects valued at $1.3 million - a pier, a boat ramp and perimeter wall, all of which are being funded by AFRICOM's Counternarcotics and Law Enforcement Division.

In addition, a U.S. Coast Guard Mobile Training Team will be giving courses in Liberia in April and May. Fifteen members of the Liberian Coast Guard are currently participating in Africa Partnership Station aboard the USS Gunston Hall, and like Agbo, others will have the opportunity to attend schools back in the United States.

When reflecting upon the successful launch of the Zodiac boat, Ensign Charles Blawah, the training officer for the Liberian Coast Guard, said, "Well, it's a lot of hard work and a lot of commitment, and we firstly want to appreciate your support [speaking to Commander Ketchum] because it is you, and the American people who have helped us to come this far.

"I hope I can achieve the mission for the Liberian people with the support of the international community."

Agbo and Blawah represent specially screened and selected soldiers from the AFL. All members of the Liberian Coast Guard had to first be members of the AFL and have completed basic training. The AFL is a force of approximately 2,000 soldiers, screened from 40,000 applicants. The coast guard was screened from within that pool, with 400 applicants showing interest in only 50 slots.

Liberia, a country slightly larger than Tennessee, has 360 miles of coastline and Liberia's director of the Bureau of National Fisheries estimates that Liberia loses more than $12 million annually due to illegal fishing. Another threat is drug smugglers using West African nations as a transshipment point for $1.8 billion in illegal narcotics and counterfeit drugs.

The stakes are high and the threats are many, said Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

"Your coast guard can and must become a regional leader in efforts to make your coastal waters a safe haven for all vessels, whether they carry fishermen, tourists or containers."


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