MONROVIA, Liberia - Armed Forces of Liberia soldiers slated to deploy to Mali participated in a sensitive site exploitation course provided by Operation ONWARD LIBERTY mentors and AFL trainers at Camp Ware’s Armed Forces Training Command March 22. During the course, the soldiers learned to systematically search for and collect information and materials from a given location that they may later use to facilitate operations or support criminal prosecution.
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.
OOL personnel continue to mentor AFL leaders and training staff at all levels to ensure the deploying platoon is properly trained and equipped to succeed in partner-nation operations in Mali and to represent Liberia as a legitimate, capable and professional force for good.
OOL mentors and AFL trainers led the course, which put SSE teams through classroom instruction and practical-application scenarios that allowed them to apply their training in interactions with fellow soldiers serving as role players. U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gregory Starace, AFL AFTC mentor, stressed the importance of being thorough throughout the course.
“The number one thing we want these soldiers to take away from this course is recognition of the need for due diligence and attention to detail,” he said. “In a real-world context, the information they’d be collecting at a site might be critical to the fight. Working through it diligently and cataloging it efficiently ensures the information’s credibility and availability for future use.”
AFL Staff Sgt. Tom Gbolugba, SSE trainer, especially emphasized the need for a systematic approach to SSE in the context of criminal investigations. “We’re really stressing to these soldiers that if you’re not thorough, you could run into problems,” he said. “You don’t want to fight a bad guy, put him away and then have him return to the battlefield because you didn’t do your job right and collect the evidence against him.”
U.S. Marine Corps Capt. John Edwards, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Brigade mentor, stressed the need for the deploying soldiers to focus not only on the facts at hand while conducting SSE, but also to recognize and act appropriately in the dynamic and varying environments they may find themselves in. “It’s important that they’re detailed and methodical, but they also have to be very conscious that not everyone is their enemy,” he said. “They need to be aware and agile, but also professional with the people they interact with. In my experience, being a personable human being makes SSE easier and leaves a more positive lasting impression.”
Gbolugba said that the instruction OOL mentors provided him and his fellow soldiers was very detailed and covered a variety of topics. But what he’ll take away beyond resonance in a particular area of instruction is the need for a holistic approach to SSE.
“This was all new information for us and we learned a lot about many different areas of investigation,” he said. “What really stuck with me is that it’s not just about finding evidence or taking pictures. It’s about thinking on your feet, taking in and processing all the information and putting it all together to make it useful. This course has equipped us to do that downrange.”