AFRICOM, Rwandan Soldiers Promote Regional Stability with Training Exchange
U.S. soldiers attached to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) have recently supported a series of missions to exchange soldiering skills with their Rwandan Defense Force (RDF) counterparts and fellow partner nation members June 30, 2001, in Gako, Rwanda.
The U.S. soldiers, assigned to the 1st Battalion 161st Field Artillery (1-161 FA), a Kansas Army National Guard unit, provided their expertise and advice if requested, said U.S. Army Major Michael McCoy, a mission commander.
Some of the skills the U.S. and RDF soldiers practiced together were: land navigation; convoy operations; troop leading and mission planning. U.S. and RDF officers planned the operational portions of this educational exchange while the enlisted soldiers combined their talents to lead the "hands on" field exercises.
"Both U.S. and Rwandan soldiers quickly picked-up on the ideas presented," said U.S. Army Captain Lance Fowler, a mission commander. "If it ever seemed like anyone was struggling with an idea, the Rwandans would come back the next morning and know it like they've known their whole life. We were able to put our heads together and work as a team."
While previous U.S.-Rwandan soldiering exchanges were exclusively managed by RDF officers, recent missions have included RDF noncommissioned officers, Fowler said.
"This strengthens the relationship between the officer and enlisted soldiers," Fowler said. "We were able to work through any issues, and we all asked questions to make sure we were on the same page."
According to McCoy, the U.S. and RDF soldiers were united by a shared belief of what it means to be a soldier.
"The basic idea is that we are soldiers and want to serve our country," McCoy said. "We aren't doing it to get rich, and we sacrifice time away from our families to protect our countries."
This dedication quickly led to a level of trust between the groups and by one account, the RDF didn't want to see the U.S. soldiers leave.
"The hardest part of leaving is that you've built these relationships and friendships and then you're gone," said U.S. Army First Sergeant Tim Prine, 1-161 FA headquarters battery first sergeant.
According to Fowler, the mission gave his team a sense of accomplishment and an understanding of the scope of CJTF-HOA.
"We got a sense of what CJTF-HOA is about," Fowler said. "Camp Lemonnier is great - it's got everything that a soldier would want in a deployed environment, but getting the chance to see another country and interact with a different military force and seeing the results gave me a sense of purpose."
In February, CJTF-HOA supported a similar training-exchange with the RDF when soldiers assigned to the 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion met to practice medical airlift procedures. Prior to this, CJTF-HOA partnered with leaders of the Capitol City of Kigali and the U.S. Embassy to Rwanda to renovate a school in the Kicukiru District, located outside Kigali.