U.S. Africa Command's senior enlisted member, Command Sergeant Major Mark S. Ripka, conducted a weeklong visit to Liberia May21-28, 2008, to work with the international team helping to create the new Armed Forces of Liberia following the West African nation's civil war. Following is a news release from the U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation in Liberia, which coordinates U.S. military programs in Liberia. The office is co-located with the U.S. Embassy. MONROVIA, Liberia June 1, 2008 The new Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), is a 1,634 strong army with few senior non-commissioned officers and no field grade officers. Because it is being freshly built with the assistance of the international community, it is an inexperienced organization lacking institutional experience and knowledge. The senior ranking Liberian officers are second lieutenants with less than two years in service. The senior ranking non-commissioned officers (NCOs) are rapidly promoted master sergeants who also have less than two years time in service. A new army with so little experience can benefit immensely from the presence of experienced military leaders. With this in mind, U.S. Africa Command(AFRICOM)Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Mark S. Ripka recently conducted a week-long visit to the nascent AFL. The U.S. government has spent more than $140 million over the past two and a half years under a Security Sector Reform program to demobilize the old AFL, recruit and vet, and to train and equip the new Armed Forces of Liberia. The program, under the direction of the Office of Defense Cooperation at the American Embassy in Monrovia, conducts all initial entry, leadership and specialized training for Liberia's new army. The rapid growth of the army -- from just 102 in June 2007 to more than 1,600 today -- means that initial entry training under SSR program will wrap up by December 2008 when the final officer candidate school class graduates. Such rapid growth for an army with no senior officers or NCOs creates many leadership challenges; chief among them someone for junior officers and NCOs to learn from and emulate. Ripka brought more than 33 years of active military service experience to share and impart with the new Armed Forces of Liberia. He had a unique opportunity to contribute to the development of a new force early in its development into a professional military. Ripka spent a full week with the new Liberian army (May 21-28, 2008). Over the course of the week he toured all of the AFL's active military installations including; the Barclay Training Center (BTC), Camp Sandee S. Ware and Edward Binyah Kesselly (EBK) Military Barracks. At the Barclay Training Center, Ripka met with the 36 officers, NCOs and junior enlisted enrolled in the Instructor Training Course. Speaking informally with the students, he answered their questions about service as a career soldier, the role of the NCO and his own experiences over his long career. Later in the day he toured Edward Binyah Kesselly Military Barracks, the new Armed Forces of Liberia's operational base along the Roberts Highway between Monrovia and the international airport. On Friday May 23, Ripka was the guest speaker at the graduation ceremony for 506 AFL soldiers who completed Infantry Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Camp Ware, near Careysburg, Liberia. His speech focused on core values of soldering; candor, courage, commitment, and competence. He also remarked about the interest and pride in the new army shown by Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who for the first time addressed the rest of the AFL earlier in the morning at and Edward Binyah Kesselly Military Barracks (an event Ripka also attended). After the graduation, Ripka traveled along with the troop convey that transported 481 of the AIT graduates from Camp Ware to their new home at and Edward Binyah Kesselly Military Barracks where he also observed reception and assignment operations by AFL officers and NCOs. On Monday May 26, Ripka held an officer professional development class at EBK for all of the new army's officers. He shared his views on the relationship between officers and NCOs in a professional military. He also met with all the NCOs. In that discussion he spoke about the role of the NCO in a professional military. This interaction with Liberian commissioned officers and NCOs was a rare opportunity for soldiers in the new army to learn from an experienced NCO who has reached and succeeded at the highest levels in the military and to further develop themselves professionally. During his visit, Ripka also met with the Nigerian general who serves as the Command Officer-in-Charge of the AFL (Major General Abdurrahman), the U.S. Senior Defense Advisor to the Liberian Ministry of National Defense, the United Kingdom Staff Mentor and U.S. contractor trainers and mentors who train and build the army. He also paid a visit to the Liberian National Police headquarters and the derelict Coast Guard base adjacent to the Port of Monrovia.