Telephonic Press Briefing on the Africa Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference (ASELC) hosted by AFRICOM, November 7-10.
Africa Regional Media Hub
Telephonic Press Briefing
AFRICOM’s Africa Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference with
U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Ramon Colon-Lopez,
Command Senior Enlisted Leader of the U.S. Africa Command
November 9, 2017
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Africa Regional Media Hub conference call. At this time, all participants are in a listen only mode. Later we will conduct a question and answer session, and instructions will be given at that time. If you should need assistance during the call, please press * then 0. As a reminder, this conference is being recorded. I would now like to turn the conference over to your host, Brian Neubert. Please go ahead.
MODERATOR: Thank you and good afternoon to everyone, from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants who have dialed in from across the continent and media gathered at various missions in Africa. Today, we are joined by U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Ramon Colon-Lopez, Command Senior Enlisted Leader of the U.S. Africa Command; Force Sergeant Major Elvidge Serumola, Force Sergeant Major of the Botswana Defence Force; Warrant Officer Class One George Sekelani Bisalomu, Malawi Defence Force Sergeant Major; and Command Sergeant Major John Swart, Command Senior Enlisted Leader for the North Carolina National Guard, and they are partners with Botswana as part of the National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program. Our speakers are calling in from Grainau, Germany.
We will begin with remarks from Chief Ramon Colon-Lopez, and then we will open it up to your questions. For those of you listening to the call in English, press *1 on your phone and you can join the question queue. If you are on speakerphone, you may have to pick up the handset in order to enter *1.
For those of you listening to the call in French and Portuguese, we have received some of your questions in advance and you may submit additional questions in English via email to email@example.com. If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #ASELC17Press and follow us on @africamediahub and @USAfricaCommand.
Today’s call is on the record and will last approximately 30 minutes. With that, I’ll turn it over to Chief Master Sergeant Ramon Colon-Lopez. Go ahead, sir.
CMSGT. COLON-LOPEZ: Thank you. I first want to thank the Africa Media Hub for hosting this call. For the very first time, AFRICOM has brought together the highest levels of enlisted leadership from the U.S. and our African partners to discuss shared challenges and opportunities. With us, we have roughly over 50 participants from 20 African nations and the U.S. and NATO attending this conference. One of the most important benefits to this conference is building relationships: not only between the U.S. and our African partners, but among African nations. We can all learn and benefit from each other during the various topics that we have discussed.
Most of all I’m very fortunate to be joined by Warrant Officer One George Bisalomu, from the Malawi Defence Forces Sergeant Major. Malawi has a fantastic Non-Commissioned Officer Academy and not only have they successfully graduated many of their own enlisted leaders, they have also opened it up to other African nations in the region.
Also on the call we have Force Sergeant Major Elvidge Serumola, the Force Sergeant Major of the Botswana Defence Force, and Command Sergeant Major John Swart, the Command Senior Enlisted Leader of the North Carolina National Guard. The Botswana Defence Force and North Carolina National Guard have been close partners since 2008 as part of the U.S. National Guard’s State Partnership Program. The State Partnership Program links a U.S. state’s National Guard with a partner nation in a comparative, mutually beneficial relationship. Thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you today and we look forward to your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much for that introduction. Just to remind our participants, if you press *1 on your phone, you can join the question queue. When we do turn it over to you, please state your name and your affiliation before asking your question. We’ll start with one of the questions that we received in advance, and to our speakers, we defer to you there together to organize how you share the answering of these questions, but we’ll start with a general question we received in advance, which is, “Why are Senior Enlisted Leaders important in the professionalization of a military force, and how does Africa Command work with partners on this priority?”
CMSGT. COLON-LOPEZ: So I’ll go ahead and take this, it’s Chief Colon-Lopez. The NCOs are important because the majority of the forces on the continent fall under the enlisted ranks. Now, these enlisted ranks need to be motivated, they need to be disciplined, and they need to be loyal to their institutions to be able to go ahead and execute their security and peacekeeping missions. This conference and the professional education that we’re getting from cross-communication with one another is critical to ensure that we utilize all the resources at our disposal to help professionalize the enlisted forces.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, and you mentioned in your opening remarks this is the first meeting of its kind of the Senior Enlisted Leaders. The next question we have is related to that initiative. Can you discuss, and perhaps your colleagues there discuss, what training or professional development is envisioned for Senior Enlisted Leaders in Africa? Now, obviously, is this meeting, this professional development, but then what is envisioned in the future going forward?
CSM. SWART: This is Command Sergeant Major Swart from the North Carolina National Guard. On the NCO education, we basically have a basic leadership course, an advanced leadership course, and an instructor training course that we’re working with the Botswana Defence Force. They have a great program, we’re just working with them to enhance and improve on areas that they asked our assistance on, so we’re basically starting at the junior level and then in discussions about the next step for senior-level NCO education.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. A related question that has come in to us in advance, noting the State Partnership Program–that was our colleague there from North Carolina: in Africa, are there other partnerships like this? And how many African countries–African militaries and state national guards participate, if you happen to know of other examples, in addition to Botswana and North Carolina?
CMSGT. COLON-LOPEZ: Yes, absolutely. In the continent of Africa we currently have 13 State Partnership Programs, and those are: Benin with North Dakota–that one began in 2014; Botswana and North Carolina began in 2008; Djibouti and Kentucky began in 2015; Ghana and North Dakota began 2004; Kenya, Massachusetts, 2015; Liberia and Michigan, 2009; Morocco and Utah, 2003; Niger and Indiana, 2016; Nigeria and California, 2006; Senegal and Vermont, 2008; South Africa and New York, 2003; Togo and North Dakota, 2014; and Tunisia and Wyoming, 2004.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much for that. Some of those go back some number of years, it’s very interesting to see this a first for the first meeting that you’ve convened there, but these partnerships go back, in some cases, for a number of years, and that’s certainly something that we want to make our partners in Africa aware of, those that are not involved in the partnerships directly. If I could move on to the next question that we received in advance–and we get questions from a couple of different means, and for participants on the call just a quick reminder before I post the next question, if you press *1 on your phone you can join the question queue, and again, please state your name and affiliation before asking a question. But the next question we have that was sent in for our speakers, more generally, is what is the greatest challenge–and I understand you have participants from 20 different countries, so the answer may be different for different countries, but what is the greatest challenge facing African militaries as they invest in becoming more professional, more modern, and more effective?
SGM. BISALOMU: Thank you very much, [UNCLEAR] this is Class One George Bisalomu, Malawi Defence Force. The challenge we have for Senior Enlisted education through partnerships of U.S. AFRICOM, as Malawi Defence Forces we have Sergeant Major Academies since 2014. This academy was established through assistance from U.S. AFRICOM as a partner. Currently, we have trained almost 171 graduates from Malawi Sergeant Majors Academy, and the year before it was Sergeant Majors Academy for Malawi but we currently we extend our invitations to African countries like Botswana, Namibia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Nigeria. But the challenge we have is since we established our Sergeant Majors Academy, we don’t have our own infrastructure. So it’s a big challenge to us, we ask our partners, U.S. AFRICOM, to assist us so that we can have our own infrastructure so that you have continuous programs for Sergeant Majors Academy in order to develop our enlisted soldiers. As you know, this academy was established with the aim of bridging the knowledge gap between officers and the Senior Enlisted. And it was [UNCLEAR] to a certain level of thinking. We mean to bring the level of thinking up to operational level of thinking because of the knowledge we get from the Sergeant Majors Academy.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir, very much, for that detailed response to the question about some of these challenges. Another question related to the topic–and again, for our participants, if you’re sending us questions, you can tweet questions to @africamediahub or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To join the conversation on the phone, press *1 on your phone and state your name and affiliation. Questions related to the Africa Senior Enlisted Leaders conference is what we’ve been discussing, building a professional enlisted force, multinational and regional cooperation, and partnership on the African continent, just to restate the themes that we’ve been covering, for anyone that may have dialed in late. The other question that has come in to pose to our participants, our speakers, is what lessons learned can Africa Command share with military counterparts, or can you share in both directions–and your military counterparts will share with Africa Command about civilian-military relations, specifically?
CMSGT. COLON-LOPEZ: This is Chief Colon-Lopez. With regards to the civilian-military engagement in the continent, we’re using a multi-agency approach to be able to understand–Department of State, USAID, as an example, and the Department of Defense–to find solutions that are impacting a lot of the countries in Africa. One of the scene-setters that we utilized from this conference was the mention of the youth bulge in Africa, the drought that is plaguing the continent. We talked about violent extremist organizations that are basically encouraging the recruitment of that youth. We talked about literacy rates, internet penetration rates, and lastly we talked about the global hunger index that is also plaguing the continent. So on any given day, when you put all of these issues together, some fall under the Department of Defense, but most of the other ones fall within the other organizations that help us shape the solutions that we bring forward to the problems. Now, the only problem is that that is the view from the USA, and one of the things that we’re doing here with our African partners is finding out if the research that we conduct is close to the reality of where live. I think that is one of the biggest gains that we have gotten out of this conference. We have something else to add on that.
CSM. SWART: This is Sergeant Major Swart from the North Carolina National Guard again. One of the good things at the state level between North Carolina and Botswana is disaster response operations. A delegation of the civilians from Botswana that worked those issues came to North Carolina and met with our emergency management. Plus, on the military side, North Carolina has to respond to hurricanes, snowstorms, or any natural disasters. We can also talk about that with the BDF and civilian force, if they ask us. So it’s kind of a win-win: AFRICOM’s doing some big things and at the state level we’re doing things we can help out with.
CMSGT. COLON-LOPEZ: This is Chief Colon-Lopez again. I think also that we would be remiss if we didn’t get the viewpoint of our African partner, Force Sergeant Major Elvidge Serumola.
[Various voices] The question is about engagement,–civil-military engagements that we have locally in North Carolina, how does that impact you in Botswana. Yes. Not the military side, just the aid that we provide to Botswana , the help for civilian disaster operations.
CMSGT. COLON-LOPEZ: Okay. Disregard last.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much for both of those answers. The United States, certainly with our partners in Africa, the whole of government approach is very important, it’s certainly indicated by the State Department moderating a call with our friends and colleagues from Africa Command. I want to thank our participant from North Carolina; disaster response is a case study in civilian military because of course the military–the National Guard–provide essential resources and capacity, but it has to all be coordinated through a whole range of civilian entities, so disaster response and unfortunately North Carolina faces hurricanes and other things. You certainly have to work across all of these different lines. I’m going to turn to a question from Botswana. Sonny Serite is a senior reporter with the Botswana Gazette & Sunday Standard. Please go ahead and ask your question.
MEDIA: Thank you very much. My name is Sonny Serite from the Botswana Gazette. My question is directed to Chief Master Sergeant Ramon Colon-Lopez. Female service members from AFRICOM visited Botswana from the 2nd of October to engage with the Defence Force counterparts on matters pertaining to female service officers. My question is, what advice would you have expected AFRICOM’s female officers to have given to their Botswana counterparts on the issue of engaging in romantic relationships with their male colleagues? I am asking this because just recently, the Botswana Defence Force charged and expelled two of their officers who had been accused of flouting the army’s policy on fraternization. So I want to understand what advice do you think AFRICOM female officers must have given to their counterparts in Botswana?
CMSGT. COLON-LOPEZ: I’m sorry, can you repeat the last part? I didn’t get the last portion of your question.
The last part was: the BDF charged and expelled two of their officers who had been accused of flouting the army’s policy on fraternization and sexual harassment, in that they had engaged in an open relationship that bore a child. The proper [UNCLEAR] teaching of the BDF but BDF still insists no romantic relationships should exist among officers.
CMSGT. COLON-LOPEZ: So this is Chief Colon-Lopez. I will start by saying I’m going to go ahead and answer the question myself. But at the request of Lieutenant General Morake, we visited Botswana and we were having a Senior Enlisted engagement with Force Sergeant Major Serumola, and we asked, “What can we do to help?” And the BDF, the Botswana Defence Force, was really serious about combatting maltreatment and any other issues that may impact the discipline of the force. One of those issues was the proper integration of females into the service. When we sent the delegation out to the BDF, they brought a myriad of briefings that ended up helping the BDF start developing their program for the prevention. Now, everything else leading to any officers being charged or anything of that nature, I’m not privy to it. However, I know for a fact that the BDF stands, on this subject of sexual assault and harassment, with zero tolerance.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, sir. Again, to remind our media participants, if you’d like to ask a question, join the question queue, please press *1 on the phone. If you could state your name and affiliation before asking your questions. We have a few more minutes for questions, for those who have just dialed in or who have not asked a question yet. Another question sent to us in advance for our speakers: You mentioned this is the first such event that Africa Command has organized for Senior Enlisted Leaders. Is there a plan yet for a follow-on event next year or for other follow-up activities to build on the relationships and the things that you’ve discussed this week?
CMSGT. COLON-LOPEZ: This is Chief Colon-Lopez once again. The answer is yes, this will be a recurring event every year. We’re going to do it shortly after the Combatant Commander, General Thomas Waldhauser, conducts his Chiefs of Defense Conference. The intent is just to go ahead and get as much information from our partners, both on the enlisted side and the officer side, to see how we can better our partnerships to deal with issues in Africa.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much again, Chief Master Sergeant, and we’ll certainly look forward to doing media engagement when you have these follow-on activities in the future. We did a similar call with the Commander when he hosted Chiefs of Defense in the spring. We have a caller. I was trying to see if there’s a question in the queue, it seems like there’s not one at the moment. If there are no further questions, I will turn it back over to Chief Master Sergeant, with you and your counterparts there, if you would like to offer some closing remarks before we wrap up.
CMSGT. COLON-LOPEZ: Before we move into the closing comments I would like to provide Force Sergeant Major Serumola an opportunity to give his take on what he has benefited from this conference. Force Sergeant Major?
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, I am Force Sergeant Major Serumola, Senior Enlisted from Botswana Defence Force. I just want to show how much I feel honored to have been given the privilege to the leadership of AFRICOM as our hosts. I just want to give my unreserved appreciation to the Command Master Sergeant Ramon Colon-Lopez, Command Senior Enlisted Leader, U.S. Africa Command. I have found the [UNCLEAR] means to initiate conferences of this caliber. I may say, the conference was very weak, and its weakness was that it made us, as Senior Enlisted Leaders, recognize and discover ourselves in terms of our appointments. Our accountability is also not just limited to our organization. We are also responsible for the lack of opportunity in our society, regional, continental, and international. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Chief Master Sergeant, thank you for giving an opportunity to your counterpart there, and before we wrap up, certainly, in addition to yourself, if you’d like to give another opportunity to any of your counterparts. We do have a question that has come in from Radio France International. We’ll put them on the line. Sorry, just one moment, I have a technical issue. Sorry about that, we had a technical difficulty. We’re just about at the end of our time, so again, Chief Master Sergeant, if you want to offer an opportunity to one of your colleagues or if you yourself would like to offer some closing remarks before we wrap up.
SGM. BISALOMU: This is Force Sergeant Major, Defence Force Sergeant Major Malawi. I would like to appreciate the good job which U.S. AFRICOM has done, to invite us to attend this conference, so we would like to request them to continue with the program so that this program must be done, maybe annually. We really thank you very much.
CMSGT. COLON-LOPEZ: And in addition to that I would just like to close with the fact that building defense capabilities is AFRICOM’s number one priority. And we do that in order to respond to crisis, defer and defeat transnational threats, in order to advance U.S. national interests and promote regional stability, security, and prosperity. So the end stage for all of us is to collectively learn from each other and fill the gaps that we have in training and professionalism in our ranks to make sure that we promote a safe and stable and prosperous Africa.
MODERATOR: I want to thank you, speakers: Chief Master Sergeant Colon-Lopez, U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sergeant and Command Senior Enlisted Leader of the U.S. Africa Command; and he was joined today by Force Sergeant Major Elvidge Serumola, Force Sergeant Major of the Botswana Defence Force; Warrant Officer Class One George Sekelani Bisalomu, Malawi Defence Force Sergeant Major; and Command Sergeant Major John Swart, Command Senior Enlisted Leader for the North Carolina National Guard. We appreciate the time you have spent with us. Thanks to all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you can contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at email@example.com. Thank you, everyone. That concludes our call.