Ugandan Air Chief visits 17th Air Force, Team Ramstein

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Ugandan People's Defence Air Force Chief Maj. Gen. Jim Owoyesigire visited 17th Air Force (Air Forces Africa) and other units here and at Spangdahlem Air Base Nov. 9-11, marking the first visit of an African Air Chief since 17th AF stood up in October 2008 as the air component for U.S. Africa Command.

The series of meetings and orientations were the latest step in the strengthening of an "already fantastic" relationship with the UDPAF, according to 17th AF Commander Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward.

"We're very proud of the relationship we have enjoyed with the UPDAF, but this visit has taken it to a higher level," she said. "We had very good opportunities for General Jim [Owoyesigire] and I to learn from one another. General Jim likes to talk about how much he's learned from us, but I think the reverse is also true. We only get stronger when we learn other perspectives, so it's been very productive."

Sharing expertise has been a consistent theme of the interaction between 17th AF and the UPDAF, according to General Owoyesigire, who explained that 17th has intensified the cooperation that was previously conducted by U.S. European Command and U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

The Ugandan Air Chief said he began learning from the US Air Force during a visit to Ramstein in 2007, when the base hosted an African Air Chief's conference, and gleaned more during this visit to propel his young force, now in its fifth year as an independent branch of the Ugandan People's Defence Forces.

"This experience has enhanced my own capability as a commander," Gen. Owoyesigire said. "I hope I can go back and put this into implementation to improve our UPDAF."

Despite the UDPAF's developing status as an independent force, it is, like the rest of the Ugandan forces, part of a dynamic and influential nation in the east African region, and a major player in security and stability in this region, General Woodward said. She cited both Uganda's role in the African Union Mission in Somalia, and their fight against the terrorist organization known as the Lord's Resistance Army.

"We are obviously very proud of our partners in everything they've been doing, especially taking a leadership role in AMISOM in Somalia and taking on the LRA--pushing them back and protecting women and children from some very horrific acts perpetrated by these criminals," General Woodward said.

Help from U.S. Africa Command and 17th AF has been a key enabler for the UPDAF's contribution to these missions, General Owoyesigire explained.

"When we started in AMISOM, we had no airlift capability," General Owoyesigire said. "General Ward came and visited and helped us to partner with the U.S. Air Force to get this airlift capability. To get training, 17th AF came and trained us in loading cargo and airdrops, and this has really helped us.

"This allows us Africans to solve the problems on the African continent. We have eased the suffering of [refugees], providing them food, water and safe passage. We have denied locations where terrorists used to operate from--these are very big achievements for us. We appreciate what AFRICOM is doing here and in other parts of Africa. If the work continues, we move toward living on a peaceful continent," General Owoyesigire said.

The itinerary for the visit included stops at the 86th Airlift and 435th Air Ground Operations Wings and Spangdahlem's 52nd Fighter Wing, along with the KMC's Kisling NCO Academy. The presentations centered on sharing expertise in everything from airlift operations and aircraft maintenance to NCO development. General Woodward thanked all the participants, saying that one thing evident throughout was the role of the professional NCO and how a well-trained NCO corps can be the backbone of an air force.

"USAFE and AFAFRICA coming together to put this visit together and make a very memorable experience for General Jim shows how our effective collaboration is a force multiplier, especially in building partnerships," General Woodward said. "We really appreciate our partners here at Ramstein and Spangdahlem taking the time to make such valued contributions to this visit."

General Owoyesigire said lessons learned from the visit will shape the next steps in cooperation between 17th AF and the UPDAF.

"This is a wide question, but right now, we are asking 17th AF to come and help us establish a squadron officers' school and NCO academy in Uganda. If we can develop these schools, then we can also involve our east African partners. It's a continuous process and we'd like to keep it up," General Owoyesigire said.