Note: U.S. Marine Capt. Dustin Partridge is the officer-in-charge for the current iteration of the Military Intelligence Basic Officer Course-Africa, a multilateral military training engagement in Senegal. He shares his experiences building positive relationships with the host-nation community in this first-person perspective.
Marines always make their communities better, and our partner nations are no different. During two U.S. Africa Command-sponsored military engagements, held in Senegal, representatives from six different African countries improved their host nation’s community with support to the Senegalese Wounded Warriors and a local orphanage.
I got help from the courses’ senior-enlisted advisor, Staff Sgt. Ian McConnell, and 39 students and nine instructors representing the countries of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mauritania, Senegal, and Tunisia for these projects.
Although improving the local community is what we set out to do, the experience tied in neatly with what we were learning in the intelligence workshop; counterinsurgency and strategies to combat insurgency support. A large portion of this entails building the support of the local populace and creating and environment of trust and security for the people. With our projects, we put this into action and demonstrated ways to increase support from the local community, starting with the Wounded Warrior Regiment, a place where injured Senegalese Veterans stay with their families.
"One of the issues we have with our wounded comrades is that their sense of purpose is lost. One of the most important things is to make them feel like people again and to spend time with them and show you care about them," said Senegalese Col. Keita, the commanding officer.
Naturally, all the students jumped at the opportunity to display their support to the Senegalese Wounded Warriors and, within a few days, were able to raise more than $300 for supplies to clean and paint their compound and provide a social gathering with the wounded warriors and their families.
We started the project with cleaning and painting the Wounded Warrior Compound. The courtyard, in the center of the building, had not been cleaned or cared for in months and a deep cleaning with a fresh coat of paint to their main office would bring new energy to the building.
There were no orders given; the students gladly volunteered their time to ensure their courtyard and main office looked updated.
“This is a really good thing to do for our veterans,” said another Senegalese lieutenant that was one of the course students. “We really should incorporate these projects into our routine more often, not just when Marines are here.”
In addition to a large charity from the Defense Attaché Association, we were able to rally students and staff to donate money to host a social for the Wounded Warriors and their families, Sep. 10. The event lasted for over an hour and brought our partners together with the wounded warriors. Everyone enjoyed the gathering, swapping stories and laughing about past experiences. The commanding officer gave a speech at the conclusion to express his sincerest appreciation for the work the students did for the compound and for hosting such a successful social. He was impressed with the partner nations’ willingness to support the Wounded Warrior Regiment, explaining how helpful these events are in bringing the nations closer together as allies.
On Sep. 13, the intelligence-course students took their personal time off on Saturday to assist the local orphanage, SOS Village D’Enfants, by landscaping their soccer and basketball fields in time for the new school year. Soccer balls could not roll over the extremely overgrown fields with thorny weeds; the students began to cut down the problematic weeds and landscaped the yard so soccer and basketball could be played again.
The orphans enjoyed the attention and got their hands dirty in assisting with the cutting down and moving of weeds. We know there was a special sense of bonding when the orphans began mimicking the students’ actions.
After the hard work, the orphans made sure to take advantage of their new playing fields, playing soccer and games of catch with the military students. After the fun and games, pizza was delivered and everyone sat under shade to eat pizza and spent time laughing and joking about the day's events.
By the end of the experience, all the students and staff were extremely pleased with the outcome of the social projects. The students realized that with a little money and a lot of dedication you could have an impact on a community and strengthen the bond of the military with the local population. The experience has been a valuable lesson to the students about the importance of working together as a multi-national organization and focusing efforts of "trust and security for the people.”