Rolling Up Sleeves at the United States Africa Command: Tips for Starting a New Job in African Security Assistance

Article excerpt

On October 1, 2007, a new sub-unified command devoted solely to Africa was established with the official stand-up of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany. While the creation of a new regionally-based, major command, centered on Africa, was, in itself, a key, historic event for the Department of Defense (DoD); what may eventually prove to be more significant is the mission and design of this new command, which will be focused not so much on traditional warfighting and combat force projection, but on the prevention of military conflicts and other crises before they begin. AFRICOM intends to do this mainly with "soft power" --helping DoD to coordinate with other U.S. government agencies, while simultaneously partnering with international elements, both individual nations and international organizations to deliver security cooperation contributions to Africa, including professional education, training, equipment, and humanitarian assistance. The objective:

   To further build African capacity to prevent or respond to internal
   security issues and various man-made or natural disaster

As AFRICOM becomes a fully independent unified command, sometime before September 30, 2008, and continues to grow and mature into its mission, many U.S. military personnel from all of the services, and from a broad variety of backgrounds and occupational specialties within their respective services, will be melded into its structure. For many of these personnel, AFRICOM will likely be their first assignment working at the strategic, international level in security cooperation; for many more, it will likely be their first time working on issues related to Africa, often in jobs involving close working relationships with African governments/militaries.

With this in mind, I thought that it might be a good moment in time for someone to write an article for those beginning their careers in African security cooperation. The focus of this short piece is where to go quickly to get the information needed to do these jobs, to include positions as J-3 and J-5 desk officers, command logisticians, security assistance officers, defense attaches, etc. My intent is not so much to provide a comprehensive "how-to" guide for doing specific jobs or even to offer advanced, wisdom-baden advice for carrying out U.S. security policy. My goal is simply to pass on some very basic tips to novice security cooperation specialists working African issues, based on what I have learned from my own experience and education as an African foreign area officer (FAO) and what I have learned through the benevolence of others.

The first piece of advice I would give is learn about the region. Africa is truly unique in many aspects, and a far different operating environment than what many are familiar with in Europe, the Pacific, the Middle East, or even Latin America. For example, beyond the capital areas of most countries, modern infrastructure may be unavailable:

* No paved or even all-season/all-weather roads

* No hard-line telephone systems or universal cellular phone coverage

* No water or electrical delivery systems, beyond a village hand-pump or local clinic 35 KVA generator

Day-to-day business is often carried out primarily through personal relationships as opposed to formal bureaucracies or public regulations, and done at a pace that may be frustratingly slow, but culturally and politically necessary. Corruption may be much less subtle and much more pervasive than imagined. And, the basics needed to receive even free security assistance, fundamentals like secure warehouses, safe munitions storage areas, fully functioning ports or airfields, literate officer corps, or noncommissioned officers with basic technical skills, cannot be assumed.

Fortunately, there are many sources available on-line and elsewhere to learn about the specific countries or regions in Africa. …