US Africa Command senior enlisted advisor, Chief Master Sgt. Ramon “CZ” Colon-Lopez, conducted a site visit to Liberia between 2 and 4 April.
During the visit, the senior enlisted leader met with Liberia’s military leadership to foster the partnership between AFRICOM and the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) following the close of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
“We want to reassure our Liberian partners that the relationship will stay alive,” said Colon-Lopez.
The visit began with a meeting between Colon-Lopez and U.S. Ambassador to Liberia Christine Elder, followed by a visit with Liberia Minister of National Defense Daniel Ziankahn, Jr., Command Sgt. Maj. Cooper Manqueh, AFL forces sergeant major, Major Gen. Prince Johnson, AFL chief of staff, and Col.Theophilus Dana, commander, Armed Forces Training Command, AFL. Topics of discussions included increasing the capacity of the AFL by strenghthening their noncommissioned officer corps.
Colon-Lopez and Manqueh held a panel discussions with various AFL senior NCO leadership before observing the first fully Liberian-led Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course (BNOCC).The class of 45 students was in week six of the 8-week-course.
“Here at the Armed Forces Training Center, we select our best NCOs, bringing them here for training,” said Master Sgt. James Gant, senior drill sergeant, Armed Forces Training Center, AFL. “It’s not just our focus to build the military, but we want to build a professional military that has respect for rule of law. That puts us in the position where our own citizens can respect us.”
Sgt. Henry Lavala, a student in the AFL BNCOC course, gave a mission brief to his fellow students, during the visit.
“It’s a good thing to be part of the first fully Liberian-led BNCOC,” Lavala said. “Our senior NCOs are well trained and they lead by example. So we always want to follow their example, and we pray to become a sergeant major or senior drill sergeant sometime in the future.”
According to Gant, NCOs are the backbone of the AFL and the training is a crucial piece in teaching them how to lead
“Our NCO creed says that we lead from the front, we lead by example,” said Gant. “So, I’m going to demonstrate and you’re going to emulate from the way I carry myself by being technically, tactically proficient.”
For Lavala, who is a junior NCOs in the AFL, the ability to provide a briefing session normally conducted by officer or platoon leader was a phenomenal opportunity, said Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Cotter, forward observer, U.S. Army Security Assistance Training Management (SATMO), Fort Bragg, N.C.
“It speaks volumes of what they’re doing here at the Armed Forces Training Center Command and how they are developing their young soldiers to become NCOs, and broadening the leadership they have in their force,” he added.
SATMO is a brigade-sized element which deploys small mobile training teams (MTT) around the world in support of international partners Easter’s brigade can provide support on a range of topics, from equipment to personnel, depending on the request of the country, according to Sgt. 1st Class Jerome Easter, military police officer, SATMO.
Colon-Lopez also met with Staff Sgt. Hannah Kanneh to discuss her role as a drill sergeant at the Liberian Armed Forces Training Center.
“Serving in the AFL is my passion,” said Kanneh, who is one of only two female drill instructors in the AFL. “My job here is to transform civilians to become professional soldiers.”
The drill instructor also shared her experiences from her recent deployment in support of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
“Although the Liberian force in Mali was limited and small compared to other contingents, it was very powerful,” said Kanneh. “The Swedish, the Burkinabe, and other partners in Mali respect Liberian forces a lot.”
Liberia has committed troops to support in Mali since 2014 and the AFL is currently on its fifth rotation to the region. There is a plan to increase the force’s presence in Mali to provide more support there.
“Even though our force isn’t as large as it should be, we find it necessary to contribute to our sister countries who are in conflict,” said Manqueh. “We don’t just want to be a country on the receiving end of assistance. We want to pay back.”
The AFL has sustained personnel losses and injuries while deployed to Mali.
“The AFL is really contributing quite a bit, no matter the price,” said Colon-Lopez.
Colon-Lopez also visited the AFL Kessley Barracks Heath Center and spoke with various health professionals. The final day of the visit included observation of infantry tactics training by members of the AFL 28th Infantry Brigade, while members of SATMO provided guidance.
“We’ve come a long way with conducting initial entry training, advanced individual training and officer candidate school, up to this stage,” said Gant.
Manqueh reflected on words of wisdom from former AFRICOM senior enlisted leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Ripka.
“(Ripka) said ‘The soldiers you are leading are watching you and asking silent questions in their mind. Those questions are answered by the way you live out there with them. The law is the law. If you make the law, you abide by it and the easiest way to lead people is lead from the front and lead by example’,” said Manqueh.
Manqueh attributes the success of the NCO AFL to the partnership with the U.S. military.
“The product you see today is as a result of a long-time investment from our U.S. partners and our local government,” said Manqueh. “We wouldn’t have come thus far if our partners had been laid the foundation since 2006.