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TRANSCRIPT: Air Force Times Interview with Major General Michael Snodgrass, U.S. Africa Command Chief of Staff
Major General Michael Snodgrass, U.S. Africa Command's chief of staff, spoke with Air Force Times reporter Michael Hoffman to discuss U.S. Africa Command's missions, roles and objectives on June 16, 2010. Hoffman had spent two days at
Major General Michael Snodgrass, U.S. Africa Command's chief of staff, spoke with Air Force Times reporter Michael Hoffman to discuss U.S. Africa Command's missions, roles and objectives on June 16, 2010. Hoffman had spent two days at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, covering Air Force topics.

Snodgrass talked about the progress the command has made since becoming a combatant command in October 2008, the history of the command, the location of the headquarters, and the types of activities the US. military conducts with African partners.

The complete transcript follows:

MICHAEL HOFFMAN: Again, thanks for having me here and thanks for your time, because I know you are busy. I just want to sit down -- and I actually spoke with Maj. Gen. (Ron) Ladnier (17th Air Force commander) yesterday a little bit about some of the things that he's seen since the startup, and I guess I'm just focused, kind of doing a piece on, now that a lot of pieces of AFRICOM are starting to stand up and develop, just what are some of the pieces in development and some of the progress that's been made thus far?

So I guess I wanted to start there. I mean, since you've come and worked with AFRICOM, what are some of the real pieces of development within the major command that you've seen as chief of staff?

MAJ. GEN. SNODGRASS: The command is approaching its second birthday. We're still a very young command. The progress that we've made in putting together a strategy that supports the goals of the president and the administration and aligning our military activities to the foreign policy of our government has been a fairly impressive road that we walked.

To be able to stand up a command from virtually nothing in the spring of 2007, we spent the whole first year trying to get people on board and renovating these very old facilities here at Kelley that the Army was gracious enough to let us move into, to where we are today, after our -- what we called our full operational capability in October of '08 has been a very difficult and time-consuming march.

Concurrently, we have managed to put together a strategy and a campaign plan for 53 individual nations to provide sustained engagement. And that's the big difference. When I was the A5 and A8 at USAFE (U.S. Air Forces in Europe), we had in our portfolio in USAFE for EUCOM, Air Force issues for all of Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, and 43 nations on the continent of Africa.

The reorganization that occurred when we stood up AFRICOM put 10 more nations into that bag. But we didn't have sustained engagement. And I believe that the Department of Defense made the correct decision in standing up Africa Command because Africa is vitally important to our national interests. And we in DOD needed to mirror what State Department had done in focusing an organization on the continent of Africa.

People don't understand why Africa is in the national interests of the United States. A billion people on the continent of Africa today; in 30 years, growing to 2 billion. Tremendous potential for international global commerce in those nations for those people. It is in our national interest to have nations with rich natural resources be a part of the global economic community. It helps everybody to have more product and more trade.

In order for that to occur, there are a lot of institutions that are required. One of those institutions is the defense institution of the countries to provide security for their people both internally, and then if their neighbors require assistance, be able to support that security externally.

And the Africans are doing that today. There are 10 peacekeeping operations on the continent of Africa, almost 70,000 troops. The vast majority of those troops are from African donors. We want to help them do that more and help them increase their capability of protecting their people providing security so that they can be members of the global economic community.

MR. HOFFMAN: Building partnerships is a big thing I guess I talked about during my time in Ramstein. I'm assuming, too, here at AFRICOM obviously. What are some of the, I guess, relationships that have been developed from just having AFRICOM and going and just pursuing those leader engagements and even just having airmen or soldiers working directly with some of these -- the African troops?

MAJ. GEN. SNODGRASS: There's a wide range of activities and it starts with our enlisted force and our mentoring programs as well as our familiarization programs. That's predominantly what our components do -- what the air component does, for example. And that can range from a small group of NCOs showing African nations how to do C-130 maintenance activities or pallet buildup. A few years ago in Botswana, we had a team that demonstrated how to do engine-running offloads and onloads for the Botswanans. The Botswanans then -- and we gave them the instructions on how to do it and they did it on their own. They used that capability to take Rwandan troops who were providing peacekeeping forces in Sudan and rotate those troops out.

Those engagements, small numbers of airmen, Marines, soldiers and sailors have a tremendous impact because they give the people who are out there doing the work every day on the field, in the jungles, the capabilities and the tools that they need to execute their jobs as professional militaries. That ranges all the way through General (William E.) Ward's engagement.

Our senior leader engagement is focused on opening doors and ensuring that when our forces are working with our partner countries, that those partners are satisfied with the support that they're getting. General Ward spends a lot of time talking to and visiting the senior leaders of the 53 nations on the continent so that he understands their issues, what it is they're asking for and working through the Department of State, making sure that whatever we are asked to provide is approved by the appropriate authority.

It takes a great deal of coordination and discussion amongst the agencies of our government, not just DOD, to make sure that we're providing a cohesive approach to these countries. What we are most concerned with is that we support when asked and we stay out of the way of our fellow agency partners when they have activities going on so that we don't overload the country's ability to support all the activities or our embassy's ability.

MR. HOFFMAN: I guess in the first year that one of the issues was trying to incorporate more of those other agencies. And there's some criticism that that wasn't happening enough. Has that improved? Break that down for me. I remember reading the transcripts from Congress and they were talking about that, but what did you see --

MAJ. GEN. SNODGRASS: Everything looks different depending on your perspective.


MAJ. GEN. SNODGRASS: There really weren't a whole lot of issues. The agencies were all interested in having liaisons or, in some cases, particularly State and AID, embedded officers in the command. It just takes time to find the people, get them reassigned -- and they, quite frankly, need to be the right people. And nobody is smarter about what people to send than the parent agency. So you have to let them go through that process.

There were estimates as to how many people could possibly join the command from other agencies that, quite frankly, didn't really survive the maturation process here. Our philosophy in the command was send us whoever you need in the numbers that you think are appropriate. We put no restrictions on any agency. We completely opened the doors to allow them to send us the types of people -- for example, just from the Treasury Department, we got three different types of capabilities to the command. Some temporary, some permanent, some came in, helped stand up. And then Jane Antonovich was the person who did a fabulous job of standing up Treasury's capability, but then when her work was done, she went back to the States to take on another position.

We think that's the right approach because those agencies' equities need to be accounted for as well. It would be unreasonable for us to make demands of other agencies when, quite frankly, we don't know that much about what other agencies do. It's been a tremendous learning process for us. And as we've matured, we have been able to go out and say, now that we understand more about what your particular agency does, it looks like w could use some help in these areas. And those dialogues go on constantly.

We're getting good reception and good support particularly from OFDA (Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance) and State. USAID is going through some real growing pains right now. They very much want to have a fulltime presence here in the command and they're working their way through how to do that. So everybody wants to be a part of this. They all want to participate and be on the staff and they're going through the bureaucratic processes required to make that all happen.

MR. HOFFMAN: One of the things I talked to General Ladnier about was a new program that the U.S. Air Force has advocated -- the Volunteer Africa program that they put together for that RFF process in developing, almost a database of airmen with a background in either language or culture. Is that something that might …. First, can you talk about that a little bit -- the importance of that in developing kind of a group of air men that have backgrounds in Africa, and having them continually work with some of the TSCs (theater security cooperation events) as we call it, and if that might expand to some of the other services?

MAJ. GEN. SNODGRASS: As I understand the program, it is a way for people to volunteer for activities that we want to execute on the continent but we don't have the right expertise, so we put that out on a website, they surf the web, they find something they're interested in and then they plug into it. And if they've got the right skill set or if their skill set matches fairly close, they may get selected. It gives the Air Force the ability to have insight, and allow people to volunteer for, those jobs.

That said, I don't know -- I don't have enough depth in the program to tell you whether or not that will build a database long term of people with the experience and interest in Africa. As the Air Force produces more defense and air attachés and builds that career field -- as they have been working on it for several years -- that will be kind of the foundation from which the Air Force will pull their foreign area officers, as does the Army.

The Navy is also going through a building period of building up their foreign area officer cadre. So I believe that, that will give the Air Force more insight into the capabilities that they currently have. I'm just uncertain as to whether or not it will be a repeat database where you can go back into that database over and over again. That remains to be seen, I think.

MR. HOFFMAN: How about for the other services? Have they expressed any interest in doing something similar with the Navy or the Army --

MAJ. GEN. SNODGRASS: The Air Force briefed that program here to the command and our other components a couple of weeks ago, so we're just at the very early stages of people being familiar with it and taking a look at it. The other services also have different ways of tracking their personnel than the Air Force does. Some better, some worse. I mean, everybody does things a little bit differently.

But when we need people to fill requirements on the continent, as a command, we go back to the Joint Staff with that list of requirements. The Joint Staff then works with the service providers, predominantly JFCOM (Joint Forces Command). And JFCOM goes out to try and find those expertise. So the services do have those insights. It's just a very long process to get people. What the Air Force is trying to do is fill those small-number -- less than 10 -- groups of folks that they can use as enablers to go onto the continent and do specific engagement activities.

MR. HOFFMAN: I guess in that vein, the question is, do you think that there is a future where AFRICOM will have assigned forces in the services at anywhere near down the road?

MAJ. GEN. SNODGRASS: Well, I'm not real good at predicting the future. My portfolio would be much stronger now if I was (laughs). I believe that overall, there's significant budgetary pressure on the department. That budgetary pressure is going to have to be accommodated. Growing more forces to assign them to Africa Command is something that the current budget environment, I am certain, won't support. But more importantly, it's not required as long as we can have access to the capabilities we need to do our jobs.

And as Iraq draws down, and we all are hopeful that Afghanistan will soon follow, forces will become more available after they've been reconstituted. In that interim time period, we have to prioritize our engagement activities and the forces that we request so that the Department can look across all of the capabilities in DOD and make prioritization and judgment decisions about where we send forces to do what kinds of activities.

So our job, here in this command, is to enunciate, as clearly as we can, what our requirements are, and how our activities support the national security strategy and the unified command plan, to execute our mission. So we are in an advocacy role, but the final apportionment decisions get made back in Washington, D.C.

MR. HOFFMAN: This being the second year coming up, how has the, I guess, interpretation of Africa Command within Africa in the different countries -- do you think, has it changed at all? I mean, were there some impressions of what Africa Command was going to be and did we, after seeing the different work that you guys have done, has that changed at all, and developed?

MAJ. GEN. SNODGRASS: Yeah, it's an excellent question. It has changed significantly. And I base that on my daily review of the media that comes out of Africa that we collect from several different sources to try and keep track of what the media's saying, as well as our engagements with the leadership of the nations of Africa. What we have found is that there was some misunderstanding about the command as we stood up, which is, you know, fairly natural. General Ward spent an extraordinary amount of energy on the continent of Africa talking to the leaders, talking to the media, engaging with as many people as possible to explain that we were reorganizing from three combatant commanders to one in order to provide a more sustained engagement profile to those countries.

When I was in EUCOM and worked for EUCOM as their air component, we had no pushback at all from African nations and they constantly asked for more engagement. We are now in that vein with the majority of the nations on the continent. They are asking for more engagement, more activities and more exposure to the U.S. military. It's on the right road. It's on the right road because of General Ward's personal energy that he has put forward into not only building his command, but in advocating what the command can bring to our partners on the continent.

MR. HOFFMAN: I guess one of the questions was, was the headquarters, you know, going to be in Stuttgart? Was it going to be in Africa? As those relations have improved -- and not to say that they were bad at first, but you know, there were some questions -- do you think there is a future where the headquarters could be based on the continent, opposed to in Stuttgart? Or does it make more sense to be here?

MAJ. GEN. SNODGRASS: Well, first off, let's go back to the budgetary environment. Moving this headquarters is going to cost a lot of money, and my surmise, from 4,000 miles away from the Pentagon, is that there won't be a lot of appetite for significant investments to relocate a headquarters. You have to ask yourself, first off, what problem are we solving by moving the headquarters? That question is not yet answered.

To get to your question about being on the continent, this is really up to the Africans. These are their countries. I believe, over time, as we have seen over the last couple of years, the Africans will request more and more engagement from us. If the level of engagement reaches a point at which the Africans either overtly request us to move in or, in terms of financing it, or ask us to move in with us financing it, because they would like to see a stronger presence -- maybe not the whole headquarters -- you could see any number of things on the continent. But it doesn't -- you know, it's not our choice. It's the choice of the Africans. Right now, we can do everything we need to do from Stuttgart with the Africans. There is no requirement for us to move onto the continent to execute our missions. We're in, essentially, the same time zone as all of our partners in Africa, which is an enormous advantage, to be able to talk to them in their time zone.

We have relatively good access from Europe onto the continent of Africa. The access within the continent of Africa is still problematic because, you know, there frankly aren't but a few airlines that U.S. personnel can travel on. I think there are 136 airlines on the continent and only six of them are approved for U.S. use. And very, very, very few go east and west. Most of it goes north and south. That said, we accommodate that. We've got some workarounds on how we move our people around to do engagement activities. We utilize military airlift for our exercises, like Flintlock -- great support from TRANSCOM for getting people into and out of country for Exercise Flintlock. So we've managed to work around those issues.

MR. HOFFMAN: Okay. Being an Air Force general, the Air Force presence within AFRICOM -- one of them -- how has the Air Force's role within the major command developed over these past couple years?

MAJ. GEN. SNODGRASS: Well, all the components, Air Force included, except for the Navy, had to build a component staff from a clean sheet, just like we did here at the headquarters. And they were a year behind us in that. We stood up the headquarters -- at the end of '07, we started, culminated in the end of '08 in the building phase, and then we started working harder and harder on our engagement pieces. The components are still closing in, in terms of their build.

Specifically, the Air Force tried and successfully installed some innovative approaches to how they staffed their headquarters and their air operations center and overlapped duties between those two in order to save on manpower and leverage the people and the facilities that they had. So far, that seems to be working very well. And we're very pleased with what the Air Force is doing.

We were fortunate that the Navy had a robust headquarters in Naples that we dual-hatted the commander and the staff. The secretary of defense approved that, wanted to see how that worked, and that's been a very big benefit to us here. And it's helped the command to have a mature component while the other components are coming up to speed.

And I think, just as an exclamation point to that, that General Ladnier's leadership has been key to bringing that to fruition up at Ramstein. He's gotten good support from his service, and when he's needed things, Gen. (Roger) Brady (USAFE commander), the USAFE staff, the folks back at the Pentagon, have stepped up to the plate to give him what he needed to build his command. And I compliment them for the actions that they've taken to get 17th Air Force where it is today.

MR. HOFFMAN: Okay. You mentioned the AOC. As they set that up and really establish that, what's the importance of that going to be at the headquarters level, I guess?

MAJ. GEN. SNODGRASS: Well, the importance of that is -- not going to be -- is, because the AOC is functioning today and the AOC is producing an air tasking order for all of the airlift movements on the continent of Africa. People need to understand the immense size of Africa. Within the continent of Africa, I can comfortably fit the entire continental United States, all of Europe, Argentina and China. The distances are immense. It is easier -- closer to fly from Chicago to Moscow than it is to go from Frankfurt to Cape Town, South Africa. And until you have traveled on the continent, you don't understand what the tyranny of distance really means. Without an Air Force component, dealing with all of those issues that then become involved with crossing over sovereign nations' airspace, using sovereign nation airfields for the movement of people and logistical supplies, the tremendous amount of international coordination and intranational coordination that must occur.

All of that -- the nexus for that -- is the AOC. And every single day, they handle that. If we were to have any contingency on the continent -- a humanitarian relief effort, a natural disaster -- the Air Force will play a significant role, as will the other components, in getting disaster relief supplies in and helping our African partners deal with whatever that disaster is that they ask for our help on. You can't do that without an AOC. Right now, that AOC is at Ramstein, 17th Air Force. And they're doing that job.

MR. HOFFMAN: Okay. You mentioned that the number of engagements has gone up. What have been some of the requests for the type of engagements that the African militaries are looking for with AFRICOM?

MAJ. GEN. SNODGRASS: We're doing a wide range of activities. At the high end are defense sector reform activity in Liberia, being executed predominantly by our Marine component, is helping to build the Liberian military capability. We all are aware of the devastation that was visited upon the people of Liberia for predominantly all of the 1990s. And it's going to take a while to build that military. But that is a very, very important project.

In Congo, we're doing a train-and-equip mission of a single Congolese battalion. And we're taking all of the lessons that we can from other attempts at training-and-equip activities like this. For example, in Congo, we are teaching classes that were constructed by Ph.D.s on contract to the AFRICOM staff -- anthropologists -- who wrote sexual and gender-based violence training that we are now giving to this Congolese battalion to help them understand how they need to treat women and why sexual and gender-based violence is wrong and unacceptable.

Also, working with our other interagency partners, we're teaching them agrarian skills so that they can grow their own food. In the Congo, when a battalion moves, the entire family moves with it. But it's not like in the United States. When I move my family, the United States government pays for my family and my household to go with me to my next station. That's not true in many African countries, and Congo is one of them.

So when they move, they do that at their own expense. By teaching them how to grow crops and feed themselves, then wherever that Congolese soldier goes with his family, they can establish a home and immediately begin to grow their own food. We're also teaching them basic military skills, as well, and trying to professionalize them so that they understand what it means to be a soldier in a military that's responsive to civilian control and is the protector of their people. Those are the high-end activities.

Low-end activities -- we could go back to some of the small-group training that we discussed. We have small teams that will begin, for example, humanitarian assistance or civil assistance activities in the Horn of Africa. When we do those activities, we do them in coordination with the embassies. And we'll begin, for example, we'll build an engineering project, which trains our engineers, because they're building a project, that we then hand over that project, for sustainment to the government that asked for the project, with our embassy's help.

Sometimes, those are very easy repair actions. We've got a team that's going to be repairing a well in Mozambique during Exercise [Shared Accord next month. As they did their site surveys, talking to the local people about the exercise and how our medical and dental capabilities were going to be brought in and we wanted to be able to provide those kinds of assistance activities to their folks, one woman pointed to the well that was outside of their village and said, can you help us with this well, because the generator had gone kaput.

So we said certainly, and we strapped that on, so as one of our training activities -- training for our people -- we'll go in and put in a new generator for that well.

MR. HOFFMAN: With so many different cultures and different languages in the (Africa Command), how do you set the different U.S. troops -- set them up for success, for these type of engagements?

MAJ. GEN. SNODGRASS: That's a very good question and a difficult undertaking. And we are learning a lot about how to do that. If we go back to the discussion on Liberia, Onward Liberty, the first rotation of troops there -- Marines -- doing that activity, has just occurred. And from the first set of folks, we learned more about how to train the second set of folks. The same is true of our staff at JTF-HOA and, for example, Exercise Flintlock, which we discussed earlier.

Last year's Flintlock, a lot of good lessons learned came out of that. And now we rotated those lessons forward into this year's training activity. Every year, we'll get a little bit better at helping to prep our forces. When the folks go down to Mozambique for Shared Accord -- they'll come through here in the command. We have now constructed a senior leadership course for them to come through. They spend about a day -- a little less than a full day -- learning about both the command's philosophy on how we do engagement activities within the structure provided to us by our foreign policy and the State Department and working with the embassy, as well as the actual mil-to-mil pieces that we've already executed. So they get a flavor for what we do, how we do it, how we interact with the Africans. And because our force is a global force, they need to have that training, because this isn't Iraq; this isn't Afghanistan; this isn't Pakistan; this isn't Indonesia; this is Mozambique or Angola. This is an African nation with a different view of the world.

MR. HOFFMAN: Yeah, I think that's interesting, that even the different countries have severely different cultures.

MAJ. GEN. SNODGRASS: It's enormously different. You're talking about 800-plus ethnic dialects on the continent of Africa. So we do our very best to train them. We also have cultural dynamic training. The Air Force is doing a very good job of that. At Maxwell Air Force Base, we've kind of stolen what they've done at Maxwell and refined it for African application. Theirs was a more generic socio-cultural training course. We've refined it for African application. We give that both to our staffs, as well as provide it for the component's use.

MR. HOFFMAN: Well, I guess one of the last questions I had -- and I think we've already kind of addressed -- but I was going to ask about, would the budget constraints in D.C. -- you mentioned a few things, whether it be manning and whatnot -- but what are some -- just an overall question of what some of those constraints might be on such a young command like this.

MAJ. GEN. SNODGRASS: Well, you know, I think it's probably safe to say that, although we're only two years old, the command is as heavily engaged, with the exception of CENTCOM, as any command in our DOD. We've had a very large number of named operations, which range the gamut of planning and execution across the continent over the last two years. It is incumbent upon us to explain to the department what that level of activity means, in terms of our manning and our ability to execute our mission.

And if we do a good job of explaining it to them, then the senior leadership -- the secretary of defense and the chairman and the service chiefs -- will make the determinations about resource allocation on a global basis. So we -- we play the advocacy role for the Africans and what their needs are, and then we allow the system and the process to work to try and balance those resources across the globe. That's extremely difficult to do. The issue of resource allocation in Africa is a decades-long perspective.

And that's something that is difficult to advocate for, because we are trying to change the cultures of the militaries in Africa that want to be more like us, responsive to civilian control, professionalized militaries who are the protectors of their people. And you just don't do that in a two-month or one-year cycle. So it is a decades-long approach. This will be a very long-term effort. But if we are successful in this, we can deter conflict because those African militaries will then be stepping up to the requirements that their nations demand of them.

MR. HOFFMAN: Well, great. Thank you very much. I appreciate the time, sir, again.