Maxwell hosts African representatives on Department of State tour

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MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- World leaders understand that building partnerships prevents conflict and enables a quicker response to instability, but the mission of building those partnerships extends past the Department of Defense.

Often, by supporting building partnership capacity initiatives, one of the Air Force's core functions, military personnel find their units hosting representatives and giving tours to guests of other organizations, such as the Department of State, and Maxwell is no different. 

To culminate a week of U.S. Department of State-sponsored visits around Alabama, 13-representatives from eight African countries were hosted June 22 by Maxwell and the International Officer School, part of the Carl A. Spaatz Center for Officer Education at Air University.

During the Educational and Cultural Affairs International Visitor Leadership Program visit, participants from the African nations of Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Lesotho, Mali, Niger and Nigeria received familiarization briefings from the 42nd Security Forces Squadron and had the opportunity to learn how Airmen rely on relationships to achieve mission success.

"During my briefing (to the group) I focused on my experience while assigned to Japan and deployed to Iraq and Kuwait. Being able to see the benefit first-hand during these assignments, I was able to relay how our relationships formed over our love of sports and family helped create an environment of cooperation," said Master Sgt. Jay Scheid, 42nd SFS non-commissioned officer in charge of police services.

The 16-year Air Force veteran detailed how visiting, talking, eating and just enjoying coffee with host nationals during his deployment helped produce a relationship of understanding and cooperation.

"Every time we had the opportunity to visit with the host nationals, there was a lot of growth because even though we are culturally different, at the values level, we are very similar. We all have a love of family, and through that we have a basis of understanding," said Scheid.

The visit to Maxwell also afforded some of the visitors their first opportunity to see U.S. military at work.

"Any time we host a visiting international delegation at Maxwell, we are building global partnerships.  When we take the time to welcome our visitors, share information about our mission and our base, and answer their questions, our international guests leave Maxwell with an overwhelmingly favorable impression of the U.S. Air Force and Americans in general," said Col. Michael Peterson, IOS commandant.

Peterson explained how Maxwell guests often take this positive message from their visits home with them and the partnerships continue to grow and strengthen.

"We have enjoyed the knowledge we have gained during this week of visits and today with the U.S. military. This is the first time I have come to a U.S. Air Force base. In Nigeria, you are not granted this type of access to the military," said Joy Imeli, Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria, director of programs. 

Imeli explained that in Nigeria there is a perception that the military is very aggressive because of the lack of access.

"In truth, you are just like everyone else with a job to do," said Imeli. "Because we have had this opportunity to see your Air Force, we have seen another side, a human side. Diplomacy is not always about force, force, force. Sometimes, it is good to let people come in and see what you are doing and that is part of what we are learning."
Additional tours and briefings the representatives received during the week included a visit to the  Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African American Culture.

"The whole purpose of the visit for us is to look for better ways to promote peace and democracy in our country without violence," said Imeli.

Since 1947, more than 11,700 international officers from 142 different nations have attended Air University schools. Each year, more than 220 students from 80 countries first attend an International Officer School preparatory course, and then continue their studies at either Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College or Air War College.

"International visitors oftentimes have a very negative (or distrustful) impression of the U.S. military or even Americans in general, most likely based on what they see or hear in the media in their home country," Peterson said. "After a visit to Maxwell, however, they typically leave with a completely different impression ... a positive one ... plus a feeling of trust and appreciation for the professional Airmen in the U.S. Air Force. When they go home, we hope that they spread the positive message about America and the U.S. Air Force, which undoubtedly will only serve to build stronger partnerships between our nations."