Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nearing the Finish Line -- Day 1 of The Final Zero Week

Monrovia, June 28th, 2008:

As the summer months began to pass us by preparations were under way for what was to be the final Initial Entry Training (IET) or basic training class to begin in early July. Beginning in the final week of June 2008 recruits for the last class, like all those who came before them, underwent final pre-induction screening at the Barclay Training Center (BTC). Few had any genuine appreciation for what awaited them, yet all were curious nonetheless. This final batch of 511 recruits would be the group to take us over the 2,000 soldier threshold, provided sufficient numbers of the graduated successfully.

{June 28th, 2008: New recruits for the final basic training class anxiously awaiting processing at the Recruiting & Vetting reception station at the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia}

Zero Week is when we began the final screening process and reception station in-processing for each basic training class. At the reception station the recruits are processed and the mail get the heads shaved. The DynCorp Recruiting & Vetting Team had, by now, long since mastered the reception station process and an observer could easily tell this was so. Medical screening, drug testing and final application issues were quickly resolved and the vast majority of applicants who showed up were qualified and processed for entry into the Armed Forces of Liberia. This class was scheduled to graduate in late August on a day later set as the activation of the first infantry battalion in the new Armed Forces of Liberia. They were loaded into vans and transported from Monrovia to Camp Ware. The drill instructors were waiting for their arrival as a new group was delivered five consecutive days in a row until all 511 had arrived.

{June 28th, 2008: The convoy departs the BTC for Camp Ware loaded with new recruits of the Armed Forces of Liberia}

{June 28th, 2008: New Liberian recruits in line for their first meal at Camp Ware}

Sunday, August 31, 2008

AFL BNCOC Graduation at Camp Ware

{June 20th, 2008: Lieutenant Colonel Wyatt giving his speech to the graduating BNCOC class at Camp Ware}

Camp Sandie S. Ware, Careysburg, Monrovia, June 20th, 2008:

Another appealing part of building a new army is watching the progress and development of leadership abilities in that new organization. One easily observed manifestation of this is graduation ceremonies. On June 20th I gave the graduation speech at what was my final Basic Non-Commissioned Officer Course (BNCOC) graduation at Camp Ware.

As always, this was a great event. The soldiers were happy to complete one more step in their professional growth. BNCOC is an important step in developing small unit leaders within the NCO corps. At BNCOC soldiers learn basic leadership skills that help prepare them to advance to the NCO ranks.

{June 20th, 2008: Lieutenant Colonel Wyatt talks to the media after the ceremony}

{June 20th, 2008: with BNCOC graduates at Camp Ware, Liberia}

{June 20th, 2008: addressing the officer candidates at the BNCOC graduation}

{June 20th, 2008: BNCOC graduates prepare to load up to move out to EBK Military Barracks}

Seabee Humanitarian Assisstance (HA) Projects

Monrovia, June 5th, 2008:

One of the most pleasant and rewarding experiences of my time as Chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation in Monrovia was with the U.S. Navy Construction Battalion led by Lt Gareth Montgomery and Chief Detweiler. The Seabees came to Liberia with the Africa Partnership Station and stayed with us for three months. During that time frame they worked on several of our existing HA projects managed by Lieutenant Commander Peters.

During the first week of June, 2008 I finally got a chance to go out and inspect the overall progress of their efforts. One great feature of their deployment was that we were also able to turn this into a military-to-military event as well. The first Armed Forces of Liberia combat engineer course ended just before their arrival and the second class graduated while they were still in Liberia. The upshot is that 40 Liberian army combat engineers participated and played a significant role in the successful completion of each project. The great work that the Seabees and the AFL combat engineers did will make a positive difference in the lives of hundreds who seek health care and many more children who attend the school they renovated.

{June 5th, 2008: the completed Logan Town road. This gravel road was previously a horrible dirt road with massive holes that made it impassable to all but off-road vehicles.}

{June 5th, 2008: Lieutenant Commander Peters and Lieutenant Montgomery in front of the project sign after the completion of the Logan Town road project}

{June 5th, 2008: the finished Clay Ash Clinic project outside Monrovia, Liberia}

{June 5th, 2008: Liberian soldiers and American sailors work together on the Monrovia Demonstration School project in Monrovia, Liberia}

Troop Feeding Discussion at EBK Barracks

Edward Binyah Kesselly Military Barracks, Monrovia, June 2nd, 2008:

As the first Initial Entry Training class neared graduation in early 2007, the Liberian Ministry of National Defense (MOD) --- recognizing its limited resources and the difficulty of sustaining a long-term troop feeding program --- directed that the U.S.-led Security Sector Reform for National Defense program not set a precedent of feeding troops with a dining facility or other means after soldiers completed their initial entry training. Under the U.S.-financed and managed SSR program, U.S. Government contractors had always provided three meals a day, seven days a week while soldiers attended all initial entry training and also whenever soldiers were deployed in the field or away from the garrison. But this decision set the stage for events that were to occur nearly a year later.

After growing dissatisfaction among some of the newer soldiers began to manifest in disciplinary problems in March 2008, the Liberian Ministry of National Defense requested that the U.S. Government now pick up the tab and begin delivering two meals a day to soldiers permanently assigned to EBK Military Barracks. Following complicated and intense diplomatic discussions, the U.S. Government agreed to begin a feeding program and phase it out of existence over a period of 17 months as additional cooking facilities and amenities are constructed and delivered at EBK Military Barracks.

Essentially the U.S. contractors would provide two meals a day from June 2008 until 30 April 2009. From May until the end of November 2008 there will be one meal per day. Beginning in December 2009 the free meal program will end. This gives troops sufficient time to prepare, for amenities to be installed and for the Liberian MOD to implement longevity pay raises and seek an across the board pay raise for all troops. With this information I went to EBK at the beginning of June 2008 to address the entire army so that EVERY AFL soldier would have the facts and clearly understand what benefits they would receive and when those benefits would end. To say the troops were thrilled to hear the details of this temporary program would be short selling their glee over this generous development.

{June 2nd, 2008: Lieutenant Colonel Chris Wyatt discusses the benefits of the new Troop Feeding Program just implemented at EBK Military Barracks, Monrovia, Liberia}

Instructor Training Course Graduations

A key component in building a military capable of self-sustainment in training is to develop qualified instructors. One the problems with doing so in an army with virtually no experience like the new (or "reformed" -- depending on one's view) Armed Forces of Liberia is the wholesale absence of experienced soldiers and the lack of any existing institution around them. To fix this problem we negotiated with both contractors to develop a program of instruction to come up with a qualifying course for "instructors" for the AFL. Essentially, the purpose of the course was to train a cadre of potential instructors in the methodologies of classroom and field instruction.

We held the first class at Camp Ware during a basic training. The next one was completed largely at the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia. The completion of that class raised the number of "instructor qualified) AFL troops from 18 to 52, as at the BTC were were able to double the size of the class (minus two who did not graduate). Subsequent classes will raise the total to over 100 before DynCorp completes all initial entry training before the close of 2008.

{April 4th, 2008: Lieutenant Colonel Chris Wyatt congratulates graduates during the ITC graduation ceremony at Camp Sandee S. Ware, near Careysburg, Liberia}

{May 30th, 2008: Lieutenant Colonel Chris Wyatt addresses graduates during the ITC graduation ceremony at the Barclay Training Center, Monrovia, Liberia}

On May 30th, 2008 I was the guest speaker at the second ITC graduation. I used the I focused on the importance of the skills the soldiers learned in the class and how they can apply them to training within their units. I was reasonably satisfied with the outcome of this course. Although we did not graduate all 36 students, it was nonetheless a successful class. As is now the norm we included junior enlisted, non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers in the class to develop professional trainers across the ranks.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Troop Transfer from Camp Ware

{May 23rd, 2008: New soldiers arrive at EBK Military Barracks and begin in-processing}

Edward Binyah Kesselly Military Barracks, Liberia, May 23rd, 2008:

The graduation of another Infantry Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Camp Ware meant the transfer of most of the graduates to their permanent operating base at EBK Military Barracks on the Roberts Highway. This graduation in late May 2008 was the penultimate Security Sector Reform (SSR) AIT graduation. Of the 506 graduates on May 23rd, 481 were immediately transferred to EBK. The remainder stayed behind for the Basic Non-Commissioned Officer Course and later on the Officer Candidate School. This was the third basic training class with more than 500 recruits. The final class will follow and graduate from basic training in August and AIT at the end of September 2008.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Addresses the AFL

{From left: Minister of National Defense Brownie Samukai, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Major General Abdurrahman the Command Officer in Charge. Pictured on the far right is Deputy Minister of National Defense for Operations Dionysus Sebwe.}

Edward Binyah Kesselly Military Barracks, Liberia, May 23rd, 2008:

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf paid her first official visit to the newly reformed Armed Forces of Liberia when she spoke to the entire army early on the morning of May 23rd, 2008 at Edward Binyah Kesselly Military Barracks outside Monrovia. She came to address the troops for the first time. Although the visit came more than two years into her term in office, this was the opportune moment. The army just recently increased in size from 1,124 to 1,634 soldiers. She spoke to over a thousand of those soldiers. During her talk to the soldiers she stressed the pride all Liberians feel towards the new soldiers and the sacrifices they have made for their nation. She also took the opportunity to express her personal interest in ongoing renovations to the barracks and ways to improve soldiers’ lot in life. President Johnson-Sirleaf promised to work with the United States to continue training the AFL to ensure they have the necessary tools to do their job.

It was a long anticipated and awaited visit that in the end came on rather short notice. The AFL received notification just two days before the visit. We went through a few different plans as to where to assemble the troops for the visit. Ultimately the band stand adjacent to the dining facility was the site chosen. Troops were all abuzz that Friday morning as her motorcade drew near. After her brief address she took three questions from the soldiers. One could easily see the respect and awe the new Army has for its democratically elected Commander in Chief in the eyes of the nervous soldiers who asked her questions that morning. Given the checkered past of the its predecessor, this new AFL seems to be on firm footing early in its development with respect to its role under civilian leadership. The three soldiers asked thoughtful questions about pay, living conditions and other opportunities for troops. It was a very exciting visit for all concerned.