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Regionally-aligned Soldiers find African forces motivated

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Nov. 20, 2015) -- Soldiers who serve in the militaries of African nations are not interested in having Americans provide security for them or their countries - they want to get better at doing it for themselves, said U.S. Army Soldiers who recently returned from there.

Soldiers, assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, or 3/1 AD, out of Fort Bliss, Texas, recently concluded a nine-month period, January through September, where they were regionally aligned with U.S. Army Africa, or USARAF. As part of the "regionally-aligned forces," or RAF, concept, Soldiers with 3/1 AD deployed to and redeployed from Africa, some of them more than once, to provide military-to-military support on an as-needed basis to USARAF-sponsored missions there.

"We planned missions in Africa to support our brigade, which was regionally aligned under U.S. Army Africa," said Maj. Thomas E. Lamb, squadron executive officer for 2nd Squadron, 13th Cavalry. "We visited multiple countries, did security cooperation, participated in joint exercise lifecycle events and combined exercises with multi-national partners, such as our NATO allies and African allies on the continent, and built partner capacity within units who were actually training and prepping to go into harm's way in support of United Nations missions and other types of activities."

Lamb said his unit prepared for their RAF on-call period with Africa-specific training in culture and history, with individual training for Soldiers, and by brushing up on collective tasks such as team live-fire and squad live-fire.

"We re-blued ourselves on activities such as IED [improvised explosive device] training, medical training, and some of the other activities that we knew we'd be training indigenous forces in Africa," Lamb said.

Overall, Soldiers from the brigade ended up going to 26 different countries throughout the nine-month mission, said Col. Barry Daniels, commander of the 3/1 AD, who personally visited 12 different African nations during his involvement in the RAF period.

THEY WANT TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR OWN

"Probably my first significant observation in the whole mission, shared by many of the Soldiers as well, was the level of motivation of a lot of the African partners," Daniels said. "These are people who have a vision for the future. They know what they want to be. They want - as do most people in the world - for their children to grow up with a better life than they had."

Daniels said when he talked with the leaders and soldiers from the militaries of the different nations in Africa that he visited, he learned that they were adamant about getting better at taking care of their own business - rather than having somebody else do it for them.

"They are interested in securing their own part of the world - their backyard, so to speak," Daniels said. "And their militaries understand they may have some capability gaps that we can help them close, and provide them some assistance in everything from tactical-level training to headquarters exercises, operational concepts, staff planning and execution. They want to do that so they can counter extremists in their own backyard and provide for this future that they want."

Command Sgt. Maj. Michael C. Williams, 2nd Squadron, 13th Cavalry Regiment, traveled multiple times to Africa during the nine-month RAF period. He worked with militaries in Malawi, Ethiopia and Zambia, and said he was impressed with their willingness to be independent - to learn from, but not lean on the U.S. military to do for them what they can and should do for themselves.

"I was immediately impressed by their level of discipline. They are very motivated, very energized, and they very much want to be successful in what they do," he said. "These nations want to be distributors of security rather than consumers of security from the United States. They want us to be able to come over there, and help build their capacity for security stabilization within their own region, versus having us do it for them. That is not their goal."

Williams said the RAF concept is a "phenomenal" idea for the U.S. Army to be involved in.

"It's a great way to allow these partner nations to facilitate their own security, and to prevent instability in their own regions," Williams said. "This is the first part of 'prevent, shape and win.' This is how we get 'left of the boom' and prevent having to go over and solve things kinetically for other people."

RAF MAKES BETTER SOLDIERS, LEADERS

The Army's RAF concept links U.S. Army units to combatant commands, such as U.S. Africa Command, to provide on-demand support to them when needed. But it's not just combatant commanders that benefit from RAF. The Soldiers and the units that participate in RAF benefit as well.

For 1st Lt. Ashley Meadows, 123rd Brigade Support Battalion, the recent RAF rotation put her in Burkina Faso for a total of four months. It was her first time in Africa and she said it was the highlight of her Army career.

"It was the best experience I've had in the Army, and also in my life - to experience the different culture," she said. "You see certain things about Africa on the news. But I was pleasantly surprised to see a welcoming community, and I would go back."

During the brigade's nine-month RAF rotation, Meadows actually deployed to Burkina Faso two times. The first time she went for a month to participate in leadership training with the 1st Logistics Company in Burkina Faso. The second time, for three months, was to provide medical, resupply operations, and maintenance operations training to the same unit.

"It was myself and a team of six," she said. "We interacted with 193 soldiers, day in and day out. It wasn't just training medical and resupply. We also shared stories of deployment, personal stories of the difference between Burkina Faso and the United States - so it was a marriage of culture during this training."

Williams said that as a senior noncommissioned officer, or NCO, he felt his involvement in Africa as part of the RAF rotations there expanded his understanding of what kind of impact the United States has around the world.

"I think it has certainly brought awareness to me personally of the fact that it is entirely possible and plausible for us as a nation to have a real geopolitical impact on our partners and to facilitate things before they become problematic, or to solve problems before they become real problems," Williams said. "I think that it has also shown me how other nations envy what we do as a non-commissioned officer corps, and it has allowed me to appreciate what we do here that much more."

MEASURING IMPACT OF ROTATIONS

Daniels said he thought it will be some time - perhaps years - before the long-term impact of his unit's RAF rotation in Africa can be accurately measured.

"We are trying to prevent conflict by shaping the security environment and working with our partners in Africa at their request to secure their own region," he said. "Measuring the impact of that, and the effectiveness of that, is going to take time. I think we need to look at this in three- to five-year, and ten-year increments, and assess whether this investment we are making is actually shaping the security of the security environment and preventing the outbreak of large-scale hostilities."

What he knows now about their RAF rotations in Africa is that it has impacted his own unit, helping young leaders to grow and develop.

"There is no doubt this improved our leaders. We would send junior NCOs and junior officers over to run small teams in Africa for up to four months at a time," he said. "They are learning how to integrate with cultures that are very different from where they come from, their own background. Those cross-cultural skills are important."

The colonel said his Soldiers were exposed not just to the culture of the African militaries they worked with, but also the culture of other NATO partner nations and other agencies within the U.S. government, including the Department of Defense and Department of State.

"They get an appreciation for embassy operations, and what that means - what a country team does in each of these countries," he said. "They are learning that at a relatively junior level, and should we be committed to having to win decisively in a large-scale operation somewhere, they are going to already have a lot of this cultural expertise. So the leadership development aspect of it is fantastic."

Strategically, he said, the partnerships that his brigade has built with African militaries, and the partnerships other Army units will build, will be useful and valuable in the future.

"I think it is in the U.S. interest to have a stable Africa," he said. "They believe it is in their interest. I think we share that interest. And any work we do to help them achieve that is probably money well spent."