Face of Defense: Guardsman Hopes to Make Difference in Africa
By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kati Garcia
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti, April 13, 2009 For U.S. Africa Command’s new deputy director of operations and logistics, the words “I can’t do it” won’t cut it.
Not from his soldiers, not from the people he serves with, and certainly not from himself.
And this Army National Guardsman, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt “Rose” Barfield, knows what it means to be able to “do it.”
Barfield was encouraged by a friend to enlist in the Army National Guard fresh out of high school at the age of 17. He served for five years as a soldier in the Kansas Guard while working toward his degree at the University of Kansas.
At 21, he found himself with a commission from the ROTC detachment at Kansas and quite possibly a whole lot more than he bargained for.
When Barfield had just 18 months of commissioned service under his belt, his platoon commander was relieved of duty.
Army Brig. Gen. Roosevelt Barfield, right, talks with members of the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade during a visit to the Medical Civil Affairs Project in Chirmitti Village, Ethiopia, Oct. 8, 2008. U.S. Air Force photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“They said to me, ‘Have we got a job for you,” the general recalled, “and then I was the only second lieutenant in my infantry company. That was my trial by fire.”
Barfield was forced to learn on the job, but it’s not a road he recommends.
“Learning on the job is not a good thing,” he said. “What you don’t want your fellow soldiers and leaders to do is to learn trial by fire. There are enough instances out there where they will have to do that. You want to remove as many obstacles as possible. Give them as much information as possible so they can put their best foot forward.”
Barfield said he believes being a strong leader is about life’s lessons. He encourages his soldiers at every level to take the information they have and pass it along.
“It’s hard to make decisions – genuine, hard-hitting decisions – if you don’t know what is required of the soldiers who carry out those decisions,” he explained. “I was on the other end of that for five years. I know what happens when you have bad leadership. I know what happens when you have absent leadership.
“Passing that information along – especially the right information – is an obligation,” he continued. “It’s not a suggestion; it’s as obligation. That is what I try to mentor to any and everybody -- not just my officers, but enlisted troops and [noncommissioned officers]. I try to pass on what I know.”
And information is by no means a one-way street for Barfield. “At the same time, I get an opportunity to go back and relearn and reinforce my lessons, or in some cases drop the lessons I have learned,” Barfield said. “Life is a constant learning process, and so is the military.”
In his view, the two are linked.
“You learn more about yourself in the military than any profession out there,” Barfield said. “This is both professional and personal. At the end of the day, you should feel good and believe in what you’re doing, or you should go do something else.”
Barfield is a father of three with a long resume after 31 years of service. His wife, Patricia, is an Army colonel. His eldest son, Galen, is a senior airman in the Air Force Reserve, and his younger son and daughter both are in the middle of high school careers.
Barfield has served both as a guardsman and on active duty, and his awards include the Legion of Merit, a Bronze Star and the Meritorious Service Medal with eight oak leaf clusters. He returned from a tour in Afghanistan eight months ago, and said he found one element in particular is key in joint-service operations.
“It comes down to one thing – communication,” he said. “I know it sounds cliché, but it really isn’t. One of the hardest things that we do as individuals – take the soldier or the military piece completely out of it – is to communicate. You need to come in with an open mind. You need to think. ‘What is it I need to learn from the other services to work with them?’ You’re not going to learn it by books, and you’re not going to learn it by osmosis. You’re only going to learn it by having one-on-one conversation.”
Barfield said he realizes certain terms and traditions are unique to each military service, and no one is expected to lose those when the services work together.
“You’re never going to give up those things that are unique to your service,” he said. “But this joint thing is here to stay, and you need to work within that. There is plenty of work for everyone. It’s all about managing egos and expectations. It’s all about life’s lessons.”
Good leadership yields good soldiers, the brigadier general added.
“Your enlisted soldiers and your NCOs will do anything you ask them to do, as long as they have good leadership,” he said. “In my mind, those officers who were enlisted make the best officers. I constantly remind myself where I’ve been, and try not to lose the perspective that whatever decisions I make, someone else has to live with it.”
Barfield said he wants to make a difference while serving with Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa.
“There are maybe one or two moments in your life where you get an opportunity to make an impact that will be universal and historical,” he said. “And we’re here. It’s hard for me to contain my excitement just thinking about it -- that I’m part of this. … History is being written, and we are the author. From private to the general, every one of us has a piece of that.”
The task force employs an “indirect approach” to counter violent extremism in the region by conducting operations to strengthen partner-nation and regional security capacity to enable long-term regional stability, prevent conflict and protect U.S. and coalition interests.
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kati Garcia serves in the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa public affairs office.)