Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Red Cross Instructs the new AFL

On Monday October 29th, the International Committee of the Red Cross began a "train the trainer" program for Armed Forces of Liberia soldiers, members of the Liberian Ministry of National Defense and PAE at the Edward Binyah Kessely Military Barracks along the Roberts Highway east of Monrovia. Students attended three days of instruction, which will be followed Friday and Saturday with a practical exercise. The course is designed to develop instructors to teach other soldiers about the Laws of Armed Conflict and the treatment of combatants and non-combatants -- important training for every soldier the world over. The Red Cross also taught the first class of AFL soldiers who went through their initial entry training last year. Now that we have some experienced troops, the Red Cross classes are essential to help the AFL develop its own ability to train soldiers.

AFRICOM -- Public Lecture Series

Last Thursday (October 25th, 2007), the Deputy Chief of Mission and I were invited to speak at the U.S. Embassy Public Diplomacy's monthly lecturer series to discuss the new Unified Command -- U.S. Africa Command. As it turns out the room was completely full of interested members of the local community who had more questions than we would ever have time to answer. Nonetheless, we were still there for over an hour and a half. It was an opportunity to tell folks what AFRICOM is and what it is not. Most present seemed very surprised to find out that we are talking about an administrative headquarters, not a base with troops, tanks and planes. I certainly got the impression that most of the crowd left the evening with a far better appreciation of what the U.S. Department of Defense is hoping to accomplish with the creation of AFRICOM.

Friday, October 26, 2007

UNMIL Radio -- Women in the AFL

Today (Friday October 26th, 2007), I appeared on United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) Radio with Sergeant Salbie and Sergeant N'Duwor of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). It was an opportunity to showcase two successful women who have excelled in the new Liberian military. Both represented the AFL and female soldiers quite well. The host of the morning talk show "Coffee Break" interviewed each of us. This was my second appearance on the program. Patience (the host) interviewed me two weeks ago. On that occasion, the topic was U.S. Africa Command. Needless to say, today's interview was much more pleasant. I got the chance to talk about the AFL and how women are doing in the new army. We are trying hard to acquaint the Liberian public with its new army as often as we can. Radio is an excellent method to do so. Most Liberians seem to listen to the radio and UNMIL Radio seems to be one of the most popular stations. [SGT Salbie, AFL on the left and Patience (Coffee Break host) pictured on the right]

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Springboks win Rugby World Cup!

I just returned from the casino where we watched South Africa defeat England in the Rugby World Cup finals in France. It was a good game (though the previous game against Argentina was better). So that makes two World Cup victories (1995, 2007) for the Boks since they were allowed to rejoin international competition. The best part of the evening was everyone there was rooting for South Africa over England (even our Aussie Bruce -- which was difficult for him).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Lieutenant Colonel Promotion Ceremony

[Brooks Robinson (Deputy Chief of Mission) on the left and COL Mayer (UNMIL) on right, pin on my new silver oak leafs for Lieutenant Colonel]

Friday (October 12th) I had a promotion ceremony to get my silver oak leaf clusters pinned on. Colonel Mayer, who is assigned to UNMIL (UN Mission in Liberia), did the honors. He was joined by the Deputy Chief of Mission Brooks Robinson (it's really her name). A lot of folks were kind enough to attend and I thank them all.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Brutal Roads

I have been a lot of places in Africa and have yet to find any that compare with the current state of roads in Monrovia. What an amazing transformation in their condition since I first arrived in June. Back then, one could move quickly thorough town. However, over the past four weeks the roads have deteriorated so rapidly that new "Daewoo swallowing" holes appear almost overnight. It is impossible to "know" the road, as its condition changes hourly! Everyone keeps talking about how when the dry season starts (very soon!) the government will begin repairing the roads. But even if they do massive road work, things will just continue to worsen; at least for several weeks. There are few alternate routes inside Monrovia proper, consequently everyone is funneled onto the same roads. Tonight we had a farewell dinner at the Royal hotel for one of the NCOs who departs next week. In July, it was about a 10-15 drive from Mamba Point. Tonight with light traffic it took us 29 minutes. The holes are so large that one has to wonder what damage the bouncing around does to internal organs (just kidding, well sort of....)

The bottom line here is no decent roads = no development or limited economic growth. I hope some donor or the government has a sound plan to remove the blacktop, properly grade the surface, lay correct drainage, pave at least six inches of blacktop and install sidewalks for the thousands of pedestrians! Well it is a dream at least.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

AIT Class Graduation

Last Friday, 05 October 2007, we graduated 499 Armed Forces of Liberia soldiers from Infantry Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Camp Sandee S. Ware, near Careysburg, Liberia.