MONROVIA, Liberia - Armed Forces of Liberia non-commissioned officers participated in a senior NCO development course provided by Operation ONWARD LIBERTY mentors at Camp Ware’s Armed Forces Training Command Jan. 14-18.
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 mentors enlisted the assistance of a combined Michigan Army National Guard and Latvian National Armed Forces traveling contact team to train more than 20 AFL NCOs on senior NCO duties and responsibilities. The MIARNG has conducted partnered training with the AFL for two years and with the Latvian military for 10. The MIARNG and LNAF have also conducted partnered operations in other deployment theaters, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
U.S. Army Master Sgt. Santos Feliciano, TCT lead instructor from MIARNG’s 177th Regional Training Institute, said he was honored by the opportunity to help mold the future of the AFL’s senior NCO corps. “We’re working to instill a sense of pride in these NCOs,” he said. “They’re the foundation. We’re trying to impart to them they can make a difference and affect positive change. NCOs need to be incorporated in business at every level because they’re ultimately the ones that get the job done.”
The senior NCO training class served as the second opportunity for Feliciano to work with Liberians. He previously deployed to Liberia in February 2012 to teach marksmanship fundamentals to AFL soldiers. Feliciano’s co-instructor, LNAF 1st Sergeant Martis Kupcs, was also on his second training trip to Liberia and offered a unique perspective on NCO development gleaned from experience as a soldier growing up in the fledgling post-war military of his native Latvia.
“There were many times when I was a young soldier that I felt that the training our international mentors provided wouldn't work in our country,” he said. “What’s key is making it work for you and your soldiers. The AFL is doing that, and as they continue to grow and learn, they’ll be a trusted power for the Liberian people to rely on, just as I think the Latvian military has become for our people.”
AFL Cpl. Cahmen Farngalo, 1st Engineer Company 1st Sergeant, agreed that some aspects of the senior NCO training would have to be tailored to best adhere to AFL and Liberian cultural norms, though the larger message of senior NCO empowerment conveyed by the instructors very much resonated with him. “In the AFL, officers are often thought to have the most responsibility for leadership, and this training is helping me to understand that NCOs and senior NCOs have key roles in that as well,” he said. “We’re the backbone, the beans and bullets that get the job done. I’m confident that the tools this training has equipped us with will help us better lead soldiers.”
When asked what his expectations were for the AFL NCOs in his class following the training week, Kupcs replied, “I expect them to be better leaders for their soldiers. Improvement is a never-ending story, and if they keep that in mind, there’s nothing they can’t do.”