Senior enlisted leaders from 27 African nations and the U.S. gathered in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, for the third annual Africa Senior Enlisted Leader Conference (ASELC).
The ASELC provides a forum for African and U.S. senior enlisted leaders to share experiences and find ways to collaborate regarding non-commissioned officer empowerment and development.
“This is a great opportunity for countries to collaborate, build on strengths, understand differences, and work together. A more secure and stable Africa is in everyone’s interest,” said U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command. “The incredible exchange of ideas and learning at this symposium is making us and our African partners stronger.”
During the first ASELC held in 2017, African senior enlisted leaders identified professional military development as one of the key issues they face. The second conference, held in 2018, included a forum to unveil the Africa Enlisted Development Strategy, AFRICOM’s low-to-no-cost, multi-year approach to enlisted development.
The Africa Enlisted Development Strategy seeks to standardize existing African professional military education institutions that can train, not only their own nation’s forces, but also those of neighboring nations with the goal of developing regional centers of excellence. Each year, the strategy focuses on up to four countries. The first four focus countries included in the first tranche of the strategy are Botswana, Ghana, Liberia and Malawi.
The execution is ongoing for the first tranche, said U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Ramon Colon-Lopez, command senior enlisted leader, U.S. Africa Command. During this year’s conference, the African tranche one senior enlisted leaders shared their experiences and are now able to serve as a model for the other African senior enlisted leaders in attendance.
For Chief Warrant Officer Ramous Barker, Forces Sergeant Major, Ghana Armed Forces, he understands that empowering and developing NCOs is critical to the success of his military.
“NCOs form the backbone of every military institution,” he said. “If you have a weak NCO corps, then you will have a weak military institution so it is essential that all NCOs are trained very well and are educated very well so that they are able to function as NCOs.”
Professional military education is at the heart of strengthening the NCO Corps, he said.
In Malawi, efforts are already underway at the Malawi Defence Force Sergeant Major Academy to train their own forces and forces from other African nations.
In 2014, at the request of the Malawi Defence Force, U.S. Army Africa sent a mobile training team to help the Malawi military develop an NCO training curriculum. During the first class, the U.S. instructors trained Malawian instructors. During the second course, the Malawian instructors taught the class and the U.S. instructors provided mentorship. In 2015 during the third iteration of the course, the Malawi Defence Force instructors taught the class with no U.S. involvement. Later that year, they began training other African NCOs.
To date, the academy has trained NCOs from 12 African nations and they plan to expand to even more countries, said Warrant Officer Class One George Bisalomu, Malawi Defence Force Sergeant Major.
“As African nations, not everyone has got everything so we keep on helping each other,” said Gen. Vincent Nundwe, commander, Malawi Defence Force. “If we have those courses in Malawi, it’s one way of trying to harmonize the interoperability with other forces.”
Top defense officials from the four focus countries, including Nundwe, participated in a Chief of Defense panel discussion about NCO empowerment.
This panel was a direct result of a request by the African senior enlisted leaders, Colon-Lopez said. During the first ASELC, the attendees said it’s great to hear from U.S. generals, but it’s most important to hear from African generals.
“The problem lies when officers aren’t always willing to empower non-commissioned officers,” he said. “We asked some of our most trusted partners [African generals] to come here to be able to impart ‘why is it that they’re choosing to empower non-commissioned officers in Africa.’”
The panelists spoke about their personal experiences empowering NCOs and why it’s essential to their military.
“NCOs, all the time, have to be empowered and you have to show the trust and the confidence in them so that even when you are not there, they will do the job just like when you are there,” said Maj. Gen. Mpho Mophuting, director of general support services, Botswana Defence Force. “It’s really important to ensure that you have the best NCO corps that can represent you both professionally in the military and even outside when they are in the civilian population to help people understand what the military stands for.”
Another topic of discussion during this year’s event is the unique perspective women NCOs bring to a military. During last year’s ASELC, two women NCOs were in attendance. This year that number increased to seven representing six African nations and, for the first time, a Women, Peace and Security panel was held featuring women NCOs from Ghana, Liberia and Malawi.
“Women are very important because they make a difference in the military,” said Master Sgt. Joyce N. Akoi, Administrative Clerk for the Chief of Staff, Armed Forces Liberia.
In Mali, women soldiers have an important role in information gathering because in that culture, women are not allowed to be seen with men. Women soldiers are able to talk to other women so that information can be gathered for the mission, Akoi said.
“We need to utilize all talent and provide everybody, regardless of gender, the ability to excel, grow, develop, and lead,” said Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell, Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The goal of the Women, Peace and Security panel is for the African participants to take lessons learned back to their countries and look for ways to capitalize on effectively leveraging women in their military, Colon-Lopez said.
As the Africa Enlisted Development Strategy progresses, Colon-Lopez said the desired end state of NCO development in African sustainability and ownership with little to no U.S. or coalition assistance to carry on training the future crop of NCOs.
“It is imperative that we first and foremost bring the lessons learned from the Africans and not just the ideas of the U.S.,” he said. That’s what’s going to resonate with them and that is the direction we need to take as United States Africa Command. African solutions to African issues.”