Air Force Leaders Meet With African Counterparts
By Air Force Maj. Paula Kurtz
Special to American Forces Press Service
DAKAR, Senegal, Nov. 5, 2009 Mali and Senegal air forces leaders echoed the requests of other African military leaders at a recent senior leader engagement here in asking for help in building airman skills and on improving capacity within their air domain.
Members of the Senegal’s 3rd Infantry Battalion Honor Platoon greet Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael Callan in Kaolack, Senegal, Oct. 30, 2009. Callan served as guest speaker at the graduation ceremony for the first class of Senegal’s Noncommissioned Officer Academy instructors. U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Paula Kurtz
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Those were the key sentiments reiterated by U.S. Embassy and host nation defense officials during the latest Air Forces Africa senior leader engagement in Mali and Senegal from Oct. 26 to 30.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael W. Callan, Air Forces Africa vice commander, spent the week visiting with key leaders and touring facilities for a first-hand look at the capabilities of the two nations' air forces.
"It's important for us to hear directly from the host nation what their priorities are as we work to develop a sustained engagement strategy," Callan said. "While there may be tactical differences in the assistance desired in each nation, the overall themes are the same -- increasing capacity in the air domain and developing a corps of professional officers and noncommissioned officers."
Forces in both of these West African nations perform a variety of military operations, ranging from support to peacekeeping operations to internal border defense to humanitarian assistance. Air mobility is a necessary component if they are to execute these missions successfully, said Gillian Milovanovic, U.S. ambassador to Mali.
"Air capability plays an important role in moving people and forces and projecting security here," Milovanovic said. "Security governs everything here, so we have to be flexible and realistic in the kinds of capabilities we invest in."
Enhanced aircraft maintenance and logistics systems, increased interoperability with U.S. and other regional partners, and further professionalizing defense forces top the list of security objectives.
"We are working with the Mali Ministry of Defense on a 10-year plan," said Lt. Col. Marshall Mantiply, defense attache at the U.S. Embassy in Mali. "We want to execute a smart plan that will lead to real capacity rather than putting a band-aid on a short-term problem."
Malian defense leaders agree, noting that a long-term strategy that improves their capability will benefit other nations in the region and around the world.
"Our common framework is combating terrorism," said Gen. Gabriel Poudiougou, general chief of staff of the Mali air force. "More engagement and discussion will allow us to build a better common operating picture in combating terrorism at a worldwide level."
Callan visited Mali’s 33d Parachute Regiment, a unit that carries out operations using tactical vehicles and communication equipment provided by the U.S. Defense and State Departments.
"These vehicles give us the capability for doing pursuit actions and convoy escorts," said Lt. Col. Louis Somboro, deputy commander. "Ninety-five percent of our soldiers were trained by the U.S, and we've engaged with you in exercises like Flintlock, Joint Planning and Assessment Teams and special bilateral training. We're very satisfied with this training, but we are always looking to improve and hope to have opportunities for advanced training in the future."
In Senegal, U.S. Ambassador Marcia Bernicat described the small, but capable defense forces as a "shining example of fellow professionals."
In addition to meeting with the Senegal air force chief of staff and touring operations and maintenance facilities, Callan and Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Steven Scott, of Air Forces Africa Command, served as guest speakers at the graduation ceremony of the first class of instructors for the Senegalese NCO academy.
Since its inception in 1971, the academy has trained more than 2,100 NCOs, and now has produced the first 12 instructors trained in-house. In his comments, Scott lauded the new instructors for being "out front, leading and shaping the future of your enlisted corps."
He noted that while the new instructors will face challenges, they also will reap great rewards. "You will actually watch as your students learn and grow and become better enlisted members right before your eyes."
Currently, many officers and NCOs attend training courses, ranging from pilot training, to core skill training, to professional military education, in other African and European nations, as well as the United States. The first Senegalese female officer is in her second year at the U.S. Air Force Academy, for example. With a well-developed NCO corps already established, the Senegalese air force is looking to expand its capability to train forces at home.
"We want to depend less on training and resources from other nations," said Maj. Elhadji Diene, a recent graduate of Air Force Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. "There is a need for us to develop the capability to do it by ourselves, for ourselves."
Also in Mali, members of Air Forces Africa were treated to a tour of the Malian Air Force English Language Lab in Bamako, one of three such labs across the country that prepares officers for training in other nations, as well as participation in U.N. peacekeeping missions. The lab will start training NCOs in January, 1st Lt. Fankele Samake, A Malian air force English instructor, said.
The lab conducts two six-month programs and produces about 40
graduates per year, with materials provided by the U.S. Embassy and Defense Department
"Our students learn all aspects of the language -- writing, listening and speaking,” Samake said. “Listening is the most important skill, but most students are better at writing." Some students arrive at the lab with a working knowledge of the English language, which is offered as an elective throughout Malian middle and high schools, along with German.
Malian defense forces supplies instructors for the lab. Instructor candidates are given a test and those with top scores attend an immersion course at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, funded by the State Department’s International Military Education and Training program.
Malian Army Staff Sgt. Niara Diallo attended the Lackland course from September 2007 through April 2008 and now teaches officers from his own defense force in Bamako.
"It was very interesting to meet new people and share knowledge," Diallo said of the course, "and it prepared me to be an instructor."
(Air Force Maj. Paula Kurtz serves with 17th Air Force public affairs.)