Warrant Officers (WO) and Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) from 18 African countries gathered in Washington, D.C. at the National Defense University May 16-20, 2011 for a five-day symposium co-hosted by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS). Participants were exposed to a broad spectrum of U.S. Strategy and Security Assistance issues in Africa.
ACSS has conducted the Joint Warrant Officer Symposium since 2010 to equip and familiarize Defense Force Warrant Officers and Sergeants Major in Africa’s security sector with tools to address the many security challenges they face, while also developing mutually beneficial relationships within and outside Africa. Symposium participants received the opportunity to develop a comprehensive understanding of the key threats and challenges that dominate the African security landscape, as well as a more detailed understanding of U.S. interests, policies, and programs oriented toward the continent. Distinguished policy-makers, security sector professionals, and academics served as speakers during the weeklong event.
Michael E. Garrison, Deputy Director of ACSS noted during his welcoming comment that establishing and maintaining a continual dialogue between U.S. military leaders and their African partners is critical and congratulated the participants for being chosen to attend the symposium.
The host of the event, AFRICOM’s Senior Enlisted Leader Chief Master Sergeant (CMSgt) Jack Johnson thanked ACSS for sponsoring the symposium. “This is a great opportunity to listen and learn from each other. Communication is very important in our field,” he explained. CMSgt Johnson also thanked AFRICOM and ACSS staff for their efforts in making the symposium possible. U.S. Army Colonel Gene McConville, ACSS Senior Military Advisor to the Academic Affairs, presented an overview of symposium’s goals and objectives.
The first day set the stage for the symposium by examining the evolving security, political, and economic issues dominating African policy dialogue from a U.S. perspective. Experts and scholars pointed out that the U.S. government is looking for African-led solutions to African problems. The U.S. also intends to enhance the capacity of African nations to conduct peace support operations in Africa.
The second day of the program focused on providing a firm understanding of the contemporary global security environment. Topics covered included conflict, human security threats, and transnational threats and challenges, including terrorism. Day three focused on providing an overview of U.S. policy in confronting health challenges and building health capacity in Africa’s security sector. The African Union and regional economic communities’ roles in managing the continent’s security affairs were also discussed. Later in the afternoon, participants received instruction about the ACSS Community, and CMSgt Johnson presented a final program summary.
Complementing the rigorous plenary sessions and discussions, participants traveled the next day to Marine Corps Base Quantico where they were briefed on various NCO military courses before visiting the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
On Friday, a closing ceremony at the Pentagon officially concluded the symposium. “You gave us a wonderful opportunity. We have learned a lot from each other,” said Warrant Officer One Joseph Kithome, Sergeant Major, Kenya Defence Forces, speaking on behalf of the participants. He added that relationships they built during the thought-provoking symposium with fellow African officers and members of the American military will prove invaluable when they return to their home countries.
After the graduation ceremony, participants toured the Pentagon, where approximately 23,000 U.S. military members and government civilians work. The tour also featured a stop at the Pentagon Memorial, where the 184 people killed on September 11, 2001 are honored. Sergeant Major Sidi Moctar Toure of the Malian Army said he was emotionally moved by the visit to the memorial, and asked for a minute of silence to honor those who lost their lives.
After the Pentagon tour, participants headed to the U.S. Capitol where they met with Dennis Hertel, a former member of the House of Representatives. The former congressman from Michigan shared anecdotes, and discussed the Capitol’s history with the participants, and invited them to visit the floor of the House.
Most of the African WOs and NCOs attending the symposium had never been to the United States. Sergeant First Class Ambroise d’Assise Mbaki Mbadji of Gabon’s National Gendarmerie said, “It is one of the best experiences of my career. It would be very good to come back.” All participants look forward to sharing what they learned with their troops and continuing to build the relationships they established over the course of the week.
Participants at the symposium came from Botswana, Burundi, Djibouti, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.