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.

Africa Commmand's Command Sergeant Major Meets the AFL

{CSM Ripka speaks to the graduates of Intantry Advanced individual Training at Camp Sandee S. Ware, near Careysburg, Liberia (May 23rd, 2008)}

U.S. AFRICOM’s Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Mark S. Ripka recently conducted a week-long visit to the nascent Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). His well-received visit was deeply beneficial to the new AFL and its officers, NCOs and soldiers.

CSM Ripka spent a full week with the new Liberian army (May 21st-28th, 2008). Over the course of the week he toured all of the AFL’s active military installations including; the Barclay Training Center (BTC), Camp Sandee S. Ware and Edward Binyah Kesselly (EBK) Military Barracks.

At the BTC CSM Ripka met with the 36 officers, NCOs and junior enlisted enrolled in the Instructor Training Course. While speaking informally to the students he answered their questions about service as a career soldier, the role of the NCO and his own experiences over his long and very successful career. Later in the day he toured EBK Military Barracks, the new AFL’s operational base along the Roberts Highway between Monrovia and the international airport.

On Friday May 23rd, CSM Ripka was the guest speaker at the graduation ceremony for 506 AFL soldiers who completed Infantry Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Camp Ware, near Careysburg, Liberia. His speech focused on core values of soldering; candor, courage, commitment, and competence. He also remarked about the interest and pride in the new army of Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who for the first time addressed the rest of the AFL earlier in the morning at EBK Military Barracks (an event CSM Ripka also attended). After the graduation CSM Ripka traveled along with the troop convey that transported 481 of the AIT graduates from Camp Ware to their new home at EBK Military Barracks where he also observed reception and assignment operations conducted by AFL officers and NCOs.

On Monday May 26th, CSM Ripka held an officer professional development class at EBK for all of the new army’s officers. He shared his views on the relationship between officers and NCOs in a professional military. He also met with all the NCOs. In that discussion he spoke about the role of the NCO in a professional military. This interaction with Liberian commissioned officers and NCOs was a rare opportunity for soldiers in the new army to learn from an experienced NCO who has reached and succeeded at the highest levels in the military and to further develop themselves professionally.

Marines Visit Monrovia

{4th Marine Logistics Group members receive a briefing at JFK Hospital in Monrovia from Master Sergeant Carlton Lewis the Senior Medical Mentor with the AFL (on the right)}

The 4th Marine Logistics Group visited Liberia in late May (18-21) 2008 to determine how they might contribute to humanitarian assistance projects and investigate opportunities for military-to-military cooperation with the Armed Forces of Liberia. They visited several sites around Monrovia including the Port of Monrovia, humanitarian assistance projects which the Navy Seabees worked on from March to June 2008 as part of the Africa Partnership Station, JFK Hospital in town and EBK Military Barracks along the Roberts Highway outside Monrovia.

The 4th MLG will be the first unit to conduct military-to-military cooperation with the new Armed Forces of Liberia. Marines hope to conduct initial training with mobile training teams as early as August 2008 at EBK. This will mark a significant milestone in the development of this new army, as the AFL is now beginning to reach the stage where cooperation and training with foreign militaries is possible. The initial Marine efforts will be small land intended to test the waters so to speak. This is really about a proof of concept and an effort to get these sorts of activities going now rather than waiting until a couple of years from now when the full 2,000 soldier army is ready for operational status (likely to be in 2010). The initial cooperation will center around two activities at EBK; supply training and civil affairs.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Instructor Training Course Class 08-02

{LTC Wyatt addresses the ITC Class at the Barclay Training Center, May 7th, 2008}

Today I paid a visit to the instructor Training Course underway at the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia. This is our second class to train future Armed Forces of Liberia instructors. The first class (held at Camp Ware) was our proof of concept run with 18 students. It went so well that we were able to expand the course to accommodate 36 students this time around. Today’s instruction included a practical exercise where students each taught class for 10 minutes. Students then critique each other at the close of the session. We had junior enlisted soldiers, NCOs and officers in this class. The idea is to develop a cadre of qualified instructors across the ranks so the new army is well prepared when we finish our training program. This way they will be able to continue as a professional military force.

This course gives me a degree of personal satisfaction, as I had to work very hard and be persistent to see it come to fruition. It is one example of how persistence and innovation can pay off at no or low cost. That said it was not a solo effort. A great deal of effort and cooperation by DynCorp made it possible to put this together and achieve success. As I told the students today, teaching is one of the most important skills one can learn. It is critical to the success of any army to have good instructors to train soldiers.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Graduation Raises Troop Strength to 1,634 soldiers in the new AFL

{Elated new troops celebrate their graduation from basic training at the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia on April 25th, 2008}

Barclay Training Center, Monrovia, April 25th, 2008:

The size of the new Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) grew from 1,124 soldiers to 1,634 when 510 AFL recruits from Initial Entry Training Class 08-04 graduated from their basic training program at the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia. The new soldiers completed eight weeks of basic training at Camp Ware near Careysburg, which converted them from civilians into soldiers. This fourth class raised the total number of troops past the 82 percent completion point in the Security Sector Reform Program for National Defense. Just one final class of recruits remains. Perhaps the best part of any graduation ceremony is the participation of soldiers’ families. This ceremony was more heartwarming than the previous one, as hundreds of family members and friends remained on the parade field for nearly an hour after the ceremony --- taking in the historic event.

Military Police Graduation (April 10th, 2008)

{Lieutenant Colonel Wyatt and the graduating Military Police of MP Class 08-02 after the ceremony}

The second military police class for the new Armed Forces of Liberia graduated 18 new military police on April 10th, 2008 at Edward Binyah Kesselly Military Barracks along the Roberts Highway between Monrovia and the international airport. The guest speaker, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Musard, related his professional experience's and encouraged the troops to serve faithfully and diligently in service to the army and nation.

The graduation will soon allow for the formation of the first platoon of the 1st MP Company of the new AFL. Military Police play a key role in aiding commanders in maintaining order and enforcing discipline within the ranks. No professional army would function properly without dedicated, professional and well-trained military police. As these newly trained military police begin to use their new skills, unit commanders will find it easier to maintain good order and train their soldiers.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Officer Candidate School Graduation (18 April 2008)

{OCS Class 08-02 on graduation day on April 18th, 2008}

On April 18th 2008 the third officer candidate school class (08-02) under the U.S.-funded Security Sector Reform program graduated 18 future lieutenants for the new Armed Forces of Liberia at the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia. Upon commissioning the 18 graduates will raise the number of U.S trained officers in the AFL from 27 to 45. This is more than 50 percent of the 88 lieutenants the program is expected to recruit and train for the new army. This was also the largest OCS class thus far. The SSR program will run two more OCS classes before all initial entry training is completed in December 2008. Getting officer training past the half way point in the program is an exciting event.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Instructor Training Course Graduation (April 2008)

{The 18 graduates of the first Armed Forces of Liberia Instructor Training Course awaiting their graduation ceremony at Camp Ware (April 4th, 2008}

Camp Ware, Careysburg, April 4th, 2008:

The first Armed Forces of Liberia Instructor Training Course (ITC) with 18 students graduated from a five week program at Camp Ware, near Careysburg, Liberia on Friday April 4th, 2008. This class of AFL non-commissioned officers and soldiers will serve as part of a core group that may potentially be assigned to the future AFL Brigade Training Unit, or BTU. The BTU is intended to serve as the new army’s training organization that will run its basic training, infantry school, NCO leadership courses and the officer candidate school after the United States Government completes the Security Sector Reform program for the first 2,000 soldiers.

The five week course included classes on effective communication, teaching methods and how to plan for and conduct different types of training courses. Completion of the course is a first step in becoming qualified to be an instructor in the BTU. However, the skills the soldiers learned in this class can be applied to any training. In other words those who are not later assigned to the BTU can still apply their new skills in other AFL units.

Africa Partnership Station in Liberia

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and U.S. Ambassador Donald Booth look at medical supply donations after cutting the ribbon during the opening ceremony for APS at Redemption Hospital in New Kru Town (March 26th, 2008)

The United States Navy Europe and Marine Forces Europe paid a two week visit to Liberia as part of the new “Africa Partnership Station.” The two week visit including off-shore training and equipment loading, delivery of U.S. donated postal equipment for Liberia’s postal service, Marines delivering humanitarian assistance, training for Liberian soldiers on the Fort McHenry and construction and repair work by the Navy Seabees. The events received wide press coverage and the presence of President Johnson-Sirleaf, who attended the “kick-off ceremony at Redemption Hospital in New Kru Town , toured the HSV Swift and the Fort McHenry and also hosted several senior U.S. officers including the Commander of Marine Forces Europe.

The event was the culmination of several months of planning by hundreds of people and just one of several stops the Navy made around the Gulf of Guinea basin in West Africa. Lieutenant Commander Esly Peters and Sergeant Major Martin Doxey of the U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation were both instrumental in coordinating and planning the ship visits. For our office the APS visit was the end of a very long three stretch in which we completed a basic training course, an infantry course, Liberian Armed Forces Day celebrations, President Bush’s visit to Monrovia and finally the APS events. Needless to say that while we were excited by the visit we finally managed to get a little sleep after APS left town.

The navy ships may have departed but they left behind a contingent of Seabees who will remain in Liberia for a few more months to complete humanitarian assistance construction projects.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

President Bush Visits Monrovia

{LTC Chris Wyatt at Spriggs-Payne Airfield in Monrovia, minutes before President Bush arrived in Marine 1, February 21st, 2008.}

Up until recently, nearly the entire focus of my effort in Liberia was to build the new Armed Forces of Liberia. However, the announcement that President George W. Bush would visit Liberia changed all that. Until now I had never been abroad in a country where the sitting president visited. I had heard how much effort it takes to make the trip successful. I will confess that although I knew this visit would entail a lot of work, I still found myself constantly surprised by people and events. The president’s visit kept everyone at the embassy very busy for many weeks. But for me personally the visit was just one more “huge” event at the end of seven long weeks filled with other huge events (graduations, Armed Forces Day).

That said it was nonetheless a very interesting and challenging experience; from driving up and down UN Drive with no traffic and tens of thousands of spectators waving to me, to the arrival ceremony at Spriggs-Payne airfield, to the handshake and brief conversation the president and I shared to the pass in review the AFL soldiers did --- it was all very interesting.
President Bush and President Johnson-Sirleaf both gave good speeches. President Bush promised to deliver 1 million school textbooks and 10,000 student desks before the next school year begins. He told a couple of jokes -- including one about his home state of Texas and Liberia both being “lone star” states. Afterwards some commentators seemed a little disappointed that President Bush did not offer Liberia any new money because of the promises he made in other Africa countries earlier in the trip. I suppose that they lost site of the $1.4 billion the United States has already given to Liberia since 2004. He talked about education, fighting malaria and debt relief. It was a little strange, as the troops were gathered but neither president really spent much of their time actually “addressing” the Armed Forces of Liberia. But the truth of the matter is that one would be hard pressed to call the visit anything other than a huge success, both for Liberia and for the Bush Administration. For me personally, this is the first time I have ever shaken my own president’s hand.

Armed Forces Day in Liberia (2008)

{AFL military police complete an unarmed combat demonstration during Armed Forces Day events at the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia, February 11th, 2008}

There are “big” days and then there are “BIG” days. Armed Forces Day in Liberia is one of the latter. 2008 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Liberian military. In 1908, the Frontier Force, Liberia’s first military arm, came into existence. The current Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) can trace it roots to the Frontier Force. Needless to say, the Liberian government and the Ministry of National Defense in particular was intent on the day (February 11th) being filled with exciting and successful events.

Among the many AFL activities for the public that day were: an officer commissioning ceremony, cross country combat run, rucksack march, unarmed combat demonstration (by the military police), marching music demonstration by the AFL Band, presidential troop inspection, a parade through the streets of Monrovia and a military ball in the evening. The 500 plus soldiers who participated are likely for a long time to remember the events and the extremely warm reception they received from the public.

Armed Forces Day provided an opportunity for ordinary Liberians to see their army and form their own opinions regarding the progress of the reconstituted AFL. Judging by the warm reception and the countless tear-filled eyes on display, many likely see the value of the new AFL. Or at least they are content with the current product. For most Liberians this was their first glimpse at the product of a now two year plus process to rebuild the army under the aegis of the U.S. Government. I’ll have to confess that we put a great deal of effort into preparing the army and venues for this day. The troops rehearsed endlessly. In the end it all paid off, as Armed Forces Day proved to be a great success and a source of pride for all Liberians involved. As it turns out the events also served to help us prepare for the subsequent visit by President Bush to Liberia. From that standpoint, Armed Forces Day success lasted beyond the events of the day.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

AIT Class 08-02 Graduation

The third Advanced Individual Training (AIT) for Infantry class of the new Armed Forces of Liberia graduated on February 8th, 2008 at Camp Ware, near Careysburg, Liberia. This particular class had the highest attrition of any of the class cohorts to date; with a total of 37 recruits not completing the training and consequently getting discharged from the service. However, the 484 AIT graduates are among the finest to go through the program thus far. Their attitude, behavior and test scores exceeded the last class across the board. The graduation is also significant because with the transfer of 464 of these troops to EBK Military Barracks, the Security Sector Reform for National Defense program has now passed the mid-point with 1,124 of 2,000 soldiers having completed their initial entry training.

A surprising and violent rain storm early in the morning threatened to put a damper on the ceremony. But the rain quickly passed and the ceremony went off without a hitch. With just two more classes of 500 to go, this graduation puts us on the downward slope. The guest speaker for the graduation was Lieutenant Colonel Wyatt who focused the history and roles of the infantry during his remarks.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Officer Candidate Recruiting Day (31 JAN 08)

[Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) 2LT George, who returned from officer training in the United States just days ago, tells potential officer candidates about her experience as an officer in the new AFL]

The Liberian Ministry of National Defense (MOD), with assistance from the U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) and DynCorp International, hosted a recruiting day at the African Episcopal Methodist University in Monrovia on January 31st, 2008. The purpose of the event was to encourage university students to consider future service a commissioned officer in the new Armed Forces of Liberia. Featured speakers included LTC Chris Wyatt (ODC Chief), Major General Suraj Abdurrahman (Command Officer-in-Charge, AFL) and Brownie J. Samukai Jr. (Minister of National Defense).

The MOD’s officer candidate recruiting day is part of a larger effort to find much needed qualified candidates to join the AFL as officers. After the guest speakers finished and the audience watched a 10 minute AFL recruiting video prepared by the DynCorp public affairs office, four AFL officers and one officer candidate took the floor and told the gathered audience of their experiences thus far in the new AFL. Without a doubt, this part of the event was clearly the highlight. The passion and conviction of articulate professional soldiers won many in the audience over.

The next step for those interested in a career in the AFL is to apply to the vetting process at the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia. We can only speculate how many, if any, of the students gathered will one day enter the army. But given the 149 applications submitted that afternoon, there at least is some interest.

AIT Field Training Exercise

[LTC Wyatt answers soldiers’ questions after a mission and “sand table” briefing at the B Company bivouac site]

Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) Infantry Advanced Individual Training (AIT) Class 08-01 conducted its capstone event with a field training exercise (FTX) from 31 January to 03 February 2008 at Camp Ware, near Careysburg. The FTX is the culminating event for 484 new AFL soldiers who will soon complete 12 weeks of initial entry training. The focus of the FTX is to allow the new soldiers to put their recently learned skills to the test in a field environment. The intense heat of the dry season adds a challenging dimension for troops unaccustomed to wearing full field gear and moving through the bush as a team.

After the FTX troops will begin to prepare for their graduation ceremony which will take place on Friday February 8th, 2008 at Camp Ware. On that day 464 of these troops board trucks and then be transported to Edward Binyah Kesselly Military Barracks on the Roberts Highway east of Monrovia. The remaining 20 soldiers are officer candidates who will move to the Barclay Training Center (BTC) in Monrovia for their next phase of training. Many of these new soldiers will profit from a unique training opportunity when they depart for Nigeria at the end of February. They will attend the Nigerian Jungle Warfare School.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Armed Forces of Liberia IET Class 08-01 Graduation

January 11th marked the first significant event of 2008 for the Armed Forces of Liberia. On that day 485 additional soldiers were added to the Liberian military’s end strength when they graduated from their initial entry training (IET, or “basic training”) at the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia. This class of 468 men and 17 women hail from 12 of Liberia’s 15 counties and with an average age of 29 bring a wealth of life experience to their new careers as soldiers.

These 485 soldiers completed eight weeks of intensive training at Camp Ware, near Careysburg that transformed them from civilians into soldiers. This class was the third in the Security Sector Reform program. The graduation raised the effective number of soldiers in the AFL from 639 to 1,124 --- in just one day. The Monday after graduation the troops started their infantry advanced individual training, also conducted at Camp Ware. After they complete that training in early February the graduates will transfer to EBK Military Barracks where they join the regular army.

This graduation was especially enjoyable for me as I got the opportunity to hand out awards to the honor graduates and conduct the pass in review with the guest speaker Counselor Augustine Toe because Major General Abdurrahman was unavailable for the ceremony.

[Photo: Lieutenant Colonel Wyatt (Office of Defense Cooperation Chief) speaking with Ambassador Booth (left) and Minister Samukai (r) after the graduation ceremony]

Infantry Company Activation

The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) reached a significant milestone on December 19th, 2007 when the first three infantry companies were formally activated. This activation demonstrated additional progress for the Security Sector Reform for National Defense program in Liberia. The company activation will remain a historical moment for the new AFL, as it was the date when formal units, led by Liberian soldiers once again exist. The ceremony took place on beautiful day at the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia. Among the guest speakers was Vice Admiral Moeller from U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany.

The activation ceremony was the culmination of months of hard work and preparation by all involved including the soldiers, the Ministry of National Defense, PAE and DynCorp, the American Embassy and the U.S. Military. After nearly two years of Security Sector Reform in post-conflict Liberia, this event helped demonstrate tangible progress in the effort to ensure security and stability in Liberia. For me it was a great personal moment and very satisfying, as the efforts of several months all culminated on one day and my plan came to fruition in spite of a host of challenges. When asked my thoughts on the activation I told the press that “today is proud day for Liberians. Soldiers can now say they are assigned to A, B, or C companies and report to duty in a unit that will eventually be operational.”

With the activation of three infantry companies the AFL troops now begin a long process to develop cohesion, teamwork, unity and esprit de corps. Each of the companies received a new company commander from an ECOWAS country in early January 2008. The officers, captains from Ghana, Benin and Nigeria, are all very experienced former commanders who will help mold the new units into effective companies and prepare them for an operational test in the future.

As time passes more AFL units will be activated. Eventually both infantry battalions and the 23rd Infantry Brigade will also take their place in the new AFL. But the ceremony on December 19th, 2007 will remain the event that started it all.