News: US plays key role in Liberia’s support to Mali
Story by Master Sgt. Brian Bahret
MONROVIA, Liberia - A joint team of U.S. service members cheered as 46 Armed Forces of Liberia soldiers departed for Bamako, Mali, from Roberts International Airport in a U.S. military aircraft June 22, 2013.
Deployments are common for men and women serving in the U.S. military, but for Armed Forces of Liberia, the flight was the start of their first deployment in more than 50 years. The AFL soldiers left Liberia for a six month deployment in Mali to conduct peacekeeping operations while promoting regional stability.
“We couldn’t be more proud of these soldiers,” said U.S. Marine Corps Col. Dave Thompson, AFL Operation ONWARD LIBERTY officer in charge. “They have worked tirelessly with their mentors in preparation for this mission. It’s been a privilege to be a part of the growth and development of these soldiers.”
ONWARD LIBERTY is a U.S. Marine Corps Forces Africa-led operation comprised of joint U.S. service members who mentor and advise the AFL in order to develop a national military that is responsible, operationally capable and respectful of civilian authority and the rule of law. OOL’s goal is to assist the AFL in building a professional and capable military force that can effectively contribute to the overall security environment in Liberia.
“This is a huge step for the country of Liberia,” said U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Stephen Draper, Armed Forces of Liberia logistics mentor deployed with Operation ONWARD LIBERTY from Camp Courtney, Okinawa. “Liberia is establishing itself as a military that is capable of assisting others in West Africa and aiding in the security environment.”
Draper, a West Milton, Ohio native, said he has deployed twice for combat operations and appreciates serving in a location where he can help a country establish itself and contribute to regional security.
“I feel very blessed that I’ve had the unique opportunity to come here and do this,” said Draper. “You can see the benefits of your actions here and the need for this type of mission throughout the world, not just Africa.”
The mentors have worked with the U.S. Embassy’s Office of Security Cooperation, U.S. Marine Forces Africa and U.S. Africa Command to ensure the AFL were prepared for the deployment.
“The mentors ensured we received the most requisite and proficient training, especially when it comes to international and military law and professional and military tactics,” said AFL 1st Lt. Nathanial Waka, troop commander.
While standing with his soldiers waiting for the C-17 to arrive, Waka said, “I consider this to be one of the best and happiest moments of my lifetime. I’m very proud, and I’ve long been waiting since I was two for this day -- to serve my country.”
A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III airlifted the AFL platoon to Mali in Liberia’s first deployment since 1960; it is also their first deployment as a restructured force following more than 15 years of internal conflict.
While mentors helped train the soldiers, a logistics team worked behind the scenes to coordinate airlift for the AFL soldiers, their vehicles and supplies. And, said Draper, the successful deployment was a culmination of months of planning, training, and intensive logistical legwork.
In addition to the airlift, the OSC arranged for a joint inspection team to fly to Liberia with equipment required to inspect, weigh, document and palletize cargo and vehicles. The team included three U.S. Air Force Airmen from Travis Air Force Base and two U.S. Army soldiers, one stationed in Caserma Ederle, Italy, and one from Kleber Kaserne, Germany.
The team prepared 40,000 pounds of cargo including Mercedes-Benz 1017 4x4 cargo truck, three Ford Rangers converted to transport squads, and other supplies for movement.
However, they didn’t limit the mission to simply building cargo, they also trained the AFL on building pallets to enable them to help with future missions.
“They didn’t know how to prepare their equipment,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Merrill Slepica, 570th Global Mobility Squadron aerial porter. “None of their equipment was prepared for us, so we did a lot of that hands-on. We really were able to help them and do some mentoring as for their next evolution.”
He added that the AFL solders were very receptive and eager to learn.
“They took everything to heart, really listened and owned the process, which was fantastic for us,” said Slepica, a Las Vegas, Nev. native.
Draper said the joint team’s support was a critical element in helping the AFL platoon deploy to Mali.
“The U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army team that came here was phenomenal,” said Draper.
He said all the requirements were identified early, the team worked well together in the months and days leading to execution, and that led to the successful movement of the AFL.
“The communication between the OOL team, the AFL, the Office of Security Cooperation in the Embassy really made this happen,” said Draper.
In a pre-deployment ceremony held June 20, 2013, Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf praised the joint team, led by members of Operation ONWARD LIBERTY and the U.S. Embassy’s Office of Security Cooperation for their support.
“We are indebted to so many individuals, organizations, bi-lateral partners that have made this day possible,” said Sirleaf. “To all of them, we express our profound gratitude and thanks.”
Since 2010, U.S. servicemembers have been assisting and mentoring the AFL helping shape their military into “a force for good.”
“We thank the United States of America for the role of AFRICOM’s Operation ONWARD LIBERTY which has been pivotal in restructuring our armed forces,” said Sirleaf. “This is a historic moment, not only for Liberia, but also for the United States as a shared commitment to building Liberia’s security sector has reached a point that our nation is not only stable within our borders, but willing and able to contribute to the shared security interests of our region.”
Date Posted:06.28.2013 02:05
Hometown:STUTTGART, BW, DE
Hometown:CAMP COURTNEY, JP
Hometown:CHICAGO, IL, US
Hometown:DEERWOOD, MN, US
Hometown:LAS VEGAS, NV, US
Hometown:TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, CA, US
Hometown:VIRGINIA BEACH, VA, US
Hometown:WEST MILTON, OH, US