Military officers from the air forces of 16 African countries are at Air War College June 11-13 attending the African Airmen Alumni Symposium, sponsored by U.S. Air Forces Africa. The 39 officers in attendance have graduated from one of Air University’s schools at one point in their military careers. While here, the officers will attend lectures and discussion groups geared toward discussing regional challenges, strengthening key partnerships and encouraging strategic thinking and airpower advocacy.(U.S. Air Force photo by Melanie Rodgers Cox)
African Airmen return to Air University for U.S. Air Forces Africa symposium

by Airman 1st Class William J. Blankenship
Air University Public Affairs

6/13/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -  -- Military officers from the air forces of 16 African countries returned to Air University for the African Airmen Alumni Symposium June 11-13.

The symposium, held at Air War College and sponsored by U.S. Air Forces Africa, is geared toward strengthening key partnerships, enhancing regional cooperation and encouraging strategic thinking and airpower advocacy.

"Our partnerships in Africa are important to us," said Maj. Gen. Donald C. Ralph, mobilization assistant to the commander, U.S. Air Forces Europe-U.S. Air Forces Africa. "Our hope is that this conference will give us all opportunities to learn from each other and form relationships both across regions and the continent that will be critical as our air forces are called upon to respond to regional crises."

The 39 international officers attending have all, at one point in their military careers, attended one of the schools at Air University.

"This is a great opportunity for us to bring these students back together who have already been to Maxwell and received professional military education here, providing us a common ground for all attending," said Lt. Col. Todd Fleming, internal affairs branch chief, U.S. Air Forces Africa. "We believe everyone will benefit from bringing them back where they can think strategically and talk with other former graduates and figure out how we can all work better together."

In addition to strengthening relationships, Lt. Gen. David S. Fadok, AU commander and president, said "this symposium provides the opportunity for our participants to come back to the Air University and refocus on the 'airmindedness' each of us developed during our time here as Air Command and Staff College or Air War College students. It's a chance to get back into strategic thinking while employing airpower in support of national and regional objectives."

The three-day event featured various speakers from around the Air Force followed by group discussions. Open dialogue between the multiple air forces created an opportunity for idea sharing, which is one of the reasons the symposium is taking place.

"Partnerships don't exist as a onetime affair," said Maj. Gen. Placid Diratsagae Segokgo, from Botswana. "You build and work on those relationships so they build and strengthen them by interacting and that is exactly what we are doing here. We get a chance to interact and reflect on the challenges that we are facing not only in Africa but globally. "

Key topics covered during lectures and breakout sessions included developing air force capabilities to support regional peace and security; developing effective resource strategies to build an air force; the importance of partnerships to overcome regional challenges; and the importance of professional military education and development.

"The academic portion is obviously very important," said Fleming. "This provides us an opportunity to discuss current issues. However, perhaps even more important is the opportunity to meet with various partners that we will be working with in the future."

A common discussion was that several of today's security challenges require a regional response, such as non-state violent extremist organizations that do not respect borders or confine their operations to one country.

"A lot of what we've discovered is many countries don't have the ability to solve some problems by themselves, they have to solve them within a regional context," said Fleming. "We want to encourage strategic thinking by focusing on regional thinking. Discussions geared toward looking at the big problem and the various players involved and bringing it all together into that context will hopefully generate future cooperation between the multiple countries."

Besides the working together concept, professional military education was stressed to the African officers as a key component of having a successful air force.

"I hope to return home and upgrade our professional military education and use the training I received here to push for a format that mirrors the U.S. way of doing things," said Brig. Gen. Griffith Evans, from Ghana. "The world is becoming a global village, and we have to know each other's customs so that when we meet on the battlefield we will understand each other."

Each African country received a number of invites to the symposium based on how many students they have had attend AWC and ACSC in recent years. The maximum number of invites for any country was five, and all attendees graduated from one of the two schools after 1998. This year's AWC and ACSC classes had 20 graduates from African countries; next year's classes are scheduled to have 15 students.

"One of the best outcomes from events like this is the opportunity to learn from one another and to develop networks or partners," said Ralph. "Today's challenges and the challenges we will face in the future are daunting, but no problem is too great if we stand together."