Saturday, January 19, 2008
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]
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.