RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- A small program in the United States Africa Command and Air Forces Africa is making a huge impact on the African continent.
The program is the African Partnership Flight and it is AFRICOM's premiere program to bring together partner nations to increase cooperation and interoperability between medical professionals from African partner nations.
This year's 4-day conference, which concluded Aug. 28, was focused solely on military medical support invited senior medical officials from various countries on the continent to participate in a conference here at Ramstein. Countries such as Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Senegal and Uganda were represented.
"This [conference] is the AFAFRICA Surgeon General's attempt to bring together the surgeon generals from our partners in Africa to help us understand their capabilities, needs and gaps with regards to supporting their [African Union] and UN peacekeeping efforts," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Gretchen S. Dunkelberger, U.S. Air National Guard assistant to the air force surgeon general.
READ ABOUT LAST YEAR'S AFRICAN PARTNERSHIP FLIGHT IN ANGOLA
The 55 participants spent the four days discussing all things medical, from training opportunities that are available and capabilities each country has to how to they could work together to provide proper care to peacekeepers throughout the continent.
"The APF is about strengthening partnerships within Africa," said Col. Ben EB Karenzi, commandant of Rwanda Military Hospital. "Especially peacekeeping operations and care for military members."
This is the third APF conference, with the first one in 2012. But this is the first one that has been focused on bringing together the senior surgeon general staff members. The senior leaders in attendance were from both the U.S. and from partner nations in Africa.
It was essential that the military medical professionals from across the continent were brought together for this conference, according to U.S. Navy Capt. Roland Powers, the surgeon general with Combined Joint Task Force - Horn Of Africa in Djibouti.
"Because of the large distances between all of the different surgeons general on the continent, it's nearly impossible for everyone to discuss problems face to face," said Powers. "This event affords them that opportunity share objectives and problems all in the same room."
But, not only is the continent huge, but the militaries across it are extremely engaged right now.
"Today, Africa is enormously involved in peacekeeping operations," said Col. Debela Achamyelesh, medical planner at the African Union Peace and Security Department. "There are around 16 peacekeeping operations going on in the world today - Nine of those are in Africa. This conference is designed to help African medics rapidly respond in peacekeeping operations and to deliver timely and standard medical care to our peacekeepers."
RELATED: AFRICOM Hosts Medical Professionals in Stuttgart
This forum brought us together and gave us the opportunity to discuss everything with our African partners, said Achamyelesh. "It allowed us to discuss where we want to be five years from now."
Part of that five year plan the conference members agreed upon was how to standardize military medical training.
"Within the next five years, we should have an institutionalized framework where all member states in the African Union should have standardized training, said Karenzi. "So, when the African Union calls for peacekeepers, they can all provide the same level of support. But we can only achieve that through these types of partnerships."
All of the participants gained a lot of valuable information and a way forward, according to Kenya Defense Forces Brig. Gen. Arrum Christopher, chief of medical services.
"I am very grateful that we were able to participate in this conference. It's a very important conference. We've made new contacts with out African partners and also forged the way forward in filling some of the gaps we've had in the peace architecture in East Africa," he said.