News: African Nations Endeavor to unify communication abilities
Story by Spc. Zach Sheely
LUSAKA, Zambia — Military personnel representing 38 African nations plus five European and North American countries, along with several African and international organizations, gathered Aug. 6 to 15, 2013, in Lusaka, Zambia, for Exercise Africa Endeavor 2013.
Their objective — to unify command, control and communication capacities, Africa wide.
Africa Endeavor, hosted in various nations across the African continent since 2006, is U.S. Africa Command's annual 10-day communications exercise. It’s the largest military communications exercise in Africa and the focus is on information sharing and interoperability between African nations. This will increase capability in providing critical support to the African Union and African Standby Forces in humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and peacekeeping missions.
According to U.S. Navy Cmdr. Bryan McRoberts, the Africa Endeavor exercise director, AFRICOM, this exercise may be the only opportunity for participating representatives to meet and work side by side with their counterparts from across Africa.
"Giving these nations a platform to overcome language barriers and understand cultural differences, while allowing them to interact and build relationships in order to create solutions, is a key objective," McRoberts said.
An Aug. 7, opening ceremony featuring much pomp and circumstance was held at Zambia's Army Headquarters, in Lusaka, to kick off the event and included a visit by Zambia’s Minister of Defense, Geoffrey Mwamba.
Mwamba observed that the exercise is helping to enhance cooperation among defense and security forces in Africa, regarding the use of information communication technology.
Five days of preparation, planning and equipment set up at a Zambian air force base, also in Lusaka, followed, as the execution portion of the scenario-driven exercise began Aug. 12.
The participants responded to a notional natural disaster occurring in a fake country, with various scenario injects along the way, meant to test personnel and technological capabilities.
Evolving each year to become more effective, valuable training — including the introduction of a public affairs workshop in 2012 — Africa Endeavor added yet another challenge to the robust scenario this year: integrating communications with a naval vessel.
"For the land-based units to communicate from here in Lusaka, to the maritime operation center in Douala, Cameroon, and then on to naval ships off shore is essential to simulating realistic operations,” said U.S. Army Maj. Kevin Garlock, Africa Endeavor technical mentor, AFRICOM. "In helping to mature African command and control information systems, we want to include as many components as possible. This way, they're not starting from scratch in a real-life scenario."
As with any military exercise, on-the-fly adjustments are the norm, and the progression is crawl, walk, run, Garlock noted.
However, lessons exchanged during this exercise are invaluable, acknowledged Nigerian army Lt. Col. Olatokunbo Bello, officer in charge of the Peace Support Operations Center, African Union.
"I think if African countries come together to do this more often, operations will be launched swiftly and we can stem the tide of disaster," said Bello, who participated in his first Africa Endeavor. "This exercise is a launchpad for proper operations. It ensures that when a real-life situation happens, we have a base to work with. We cannot underestimate the importance of this exercise."
Along with the African Union, NATO was also represented. Members of coalition nations on hand to assist in facilitation included Australia, Belgium, Canada, The Netherlands and Sweden.
“I've seen a lot of new things and learned a lot,” said Sgt. Thomas Peeten of The Netherlands armed forces. “It's been great working with the African nations.”
Two years of planning culminated in Africa Endeavor and McRoberts was impressed by the increased level of progress and participation over the past three years he’s been involved with the exercise.
"The opportunity to provide a collaborative effort and seeing the results and progress have been very rewarding," he said.
A closing ceremony, Aug. 15, in Lusaka, will conclude the exercise.