ABUJA, Nigeria – Senior enlisted military leaders from 13 African countries, along with six U.S. service members, attended the second African Land Forces Summit Senior Enlisted Leader Program on April 16, 2018 in Abuja, Nigeria.
The theme at this year’s ALFS was “Unity is Strength: Combating Africa’s Security Challenges.”
“Hadaka yana da ƙarfi,” (Ha-dah-ka Ya-nah Da Kar-Fee) was the catch phrase at the meeting, which means “unity is strength” in Hausa, one of the more predominant languages of West Africa. The annual, weeklong seminar brings together senior military leaders from across African nations to discuss and develop solutions to regional and transregional challenges.
Speaking to the delegation on the first day of the summit, Gen. James C. McConville, the vice chief of staff of the Army, captured the intent for ALFS and the senior enlisted program.
“There is much experience in this room. The relationships we build this week will not only help build security in all of Africa, but also in the rest of the world,” McConville said.
While ALFS is an annual opportunity for African militaries to share their best practices and challenges, the Senior Enlisted Program’s purpose is to discuss the benefits and constraints of developing noncommissioned officers throughout their careers.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jeremiah E. Inman, the U.S. Army Africa command sergeant major, welcomed his fellow senior enlisted leaders and explained that STEP is one of the most important tools the U.S. Army uses to determine who is worthy of advancement.
STEP stands for select, train, educate, and promote, and is the process by which noncommissioned officers progress to become senior enlisted leaders.
The participants exchanged anecdotes and made comparisons about their respective countries and their military; however, most of the conversation dealt with selection for promotion and how education plays a critical role.
“Education is probably the most important category for advancement within our forces,” Inman said.
He added that in the U.S., Army Soldiers are selected for promotion and trained at their appropriate level, they appear before a promotion authority, attend educational requirement, and, if successful, they will promote.
“This is a way to do this, not the only way,” Inman said. “Each of you should take what we have and modify it to your countries military and situation.”
Warrant Officer I Patson Mwanakanje, from the Republic of Zambia, commented how important senior enlisted leaders are in his country. “The command sergeant major in our military is responsible to know all his warrant officers (senior enlisted leaders) in the command and be able to recommend them to our senior officers,” Mwanakanje said.
The breakout sessions scheduled throughout the event also provided senior enlisted leaders a chance to speak candidly about officer and enlisted teamwork and leadership challenges. Lessons learned at the summit are designed to be shared back at their countries with mid-level and junior enlisted military members of their respective armed forces. Inman stressed that by sharing experiences and working together, solutions will emerge to solve many of the challenges regarding education.
“You do not need to send an NCO to America for education; there are over 140 institutions spread across Africa, and if you identify the requirement you can build capability in your country,” Inman said. The participants at the conference were pleased with the discussions and stressed the importance of continuing these seminars in the future.
“Your Army structure is good. It shows where the Soldier is and what he needs to do to advance, and it eliminates corruption, a very good idea. These meetings are very important,” said Warrant Officer I Patrick Ekirita from the Republic of Uganda.
Participants also commented that the senior enlisted leader program was beneficial because it allowed seasoned leaders to develop additional skills and techniques for problem solving when they return to their respective countries. Events like ALFS give these leaders opportunities to foster relationships with other nations and to provide insights on best practices within their regions.
At the closing ceremony, the U.S. Army Africa command sergeant major reminded all in attendance that the noncommissioned officer corps is a vital indicator to the success of any military. However, he added that this would not be possible without the trust of their officers.
“We are able to lead because of the authority our officers give us, and this is only given to us if we have built those relationships of trust. Building that trust with your officers is critical, and it starts at the platoon level,” Inman said.
The 4-day event came to a close, but many of the participants expressed hope that the relationships and partnerships created this week will endure for a long time to come.