U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Ramon Colon-Lopez relinquished responsibility as the command senior enlisted leader of U.S. Africa Command during a ceremony Nov. 15, 2019 in Stuttgart, Germany.
Colon-Lopez has been selected as the next Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or SEAC, and will assume those duties mid-December.
During his tenure at AFRICOM, Colon-Lopez enhanced the professional development of African enlisted forces by creating the Africa Enlisted Development Strategy, a low-to-no-cost, multi-year approach to enlisted development on the continent.
“When we developed the Africa Enlisted Development Strategy, it was designed for the long-term, not just to get immediate results,” he said. “Moving forward, I think it is a matter of staying engaged, making sure [the African partners] know they have our full support and making sure that we show United States Africa Command and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the returns on investment. It’s clearly pennies-to-the-dollars and it’s making a huge, huge impact on the continent.”
Colon-Lopez recalls a specific instance where he saw the impact firsthand.
Senior enlisted leaders from Botswana, Ghana, Liberia and Malawi were having a discussion about family care programs while participating in a key leader engagement in the U.S. During that discussion, Chief Warrant officer Ramous Barker, the forces sergeant major of the Ghana Armed Forces, said to Colon-Lopez ‘Chief, three years ago I never would have imagined reaching out across the continent to talk to my brother about family care programs. Now we do. Now we have an avenue of communication and now we know the capabilities of each other,’ he said.
“If I had to encapsulate the success of our strategy that would be it,” he said. “They are talking to each other and they are taking ownership.”
The progress made with enlisted development in Africa will endure even after Colon-Lopez leaves the command.
“I want to ensure him that his good work has made a very big impact on all of us,” Barker said. “We will not let him down. We will keep the torch burning. Wherever he goes, we will not forget about him because we know he will not forget about us.”
As he begins his new role, Colon-Lopez intends to take what he learned at AFRICOM and implement it on a global scale.
“On average, about 80 percent of any military force is comprised of enlisted forces,” he said. “If they’re professional, they increase an officer’s span of responsibility. They are also the keepers of the standards so the more professional forces you have on the ground, the better the outcome of any particular mission.”
He also intends to build upon the momentum of the outgoing SEAC, U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell. This includes ensuring the health and welfare of the force is able to undertake any mission; and build relationships with the military services to maximize collaboration and efficiency when it comes to solving challenges, he said.
“I want to continue to build on the relationships that the current SEAC has built globally,” Colon-Lopez said. “We’ll continue to advocate for partner countries to have an equivalent to the SEAC position to share best practices and find out what we can be doing collectively.”
Colon-Lopez has served as the command senior enlisted leader for U.S. Africa Command since Sept. 2016 and has seen the command change including restructuring the command’s lines of effort.
“People have their lanes and they know where to focus and spend their energy,” he said. “I believe the leadership is a lot more transparent with our staff, which is critical to make sure people know exactly what is expected of them.”
A replacement has not yet been named, however, when that person is selected and begins as the next command senior enlisted advisor, Colon-Lopez offered some advice.
“Think panoramically,” he said. “ Just open your eyes, take a look around, see who is making a difference and who is occupying space, then go ahead and act on the actions that are needed to effect the change you want to see, live that change, and continue to follow-up.”