Nigerian delegation visits Air Forces Africa

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Nigeria sent a team of senior military officials to 17th Air Force (Air Forces Africa) on Sept. 11, giving the West African nation a chance to be guests after hosting two AFAFRICA visits in August. 

The visit was part of an overall Focus Planning Workshop with U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart. AFAFRICA officials took the opportunity to showcase training programs and provide information to facilitate planning for further engagements, according to 17 AF Vice Commander Brig. Gen. Michael Callan. 

"We want to continue a dialogue that starts with us asking, 'where can we help?'," General Callan said. "Listening to our African partners will result in more effective and efficient use of the funding, resources and personnel that are projected for engagement events on the continent." 

While this philosophy is at work no matter where military officials from the two countries meet, coming to AFAFRICA's Ramstein headquarters provided the Nigerians with hands-on insight into U.S. Air Force capabilities. General Callan first met with senior Nigerian air force officials in August, when he traveled to Lagos on a senior leader engagement. He said the Nigerians' focus on refurbishing their C-130 Hercules fleet tailored their itinerary at Ramstein. 

"We hosted the general officers in charge of training for their army, navy and air forces. They got a behind-the-scenes look at the 86th Airlift Wing's maintenance practices, their aircraft parts warehouse and inspection facilities, and the air traffic control tower," General Callan said. 

In addition to the 86th maintenance operations, and the 86th Operations Support Squadron's Control Tower, the guests toured the 435th Contingency Response Group's sparkling Central Planning Facility. CRG members then treated the Nigerian officials to a series of demonstrations on deployable equipment, from operation of a Humvee to rapid assembly of tents. 

The familiarization came as AFAFRICA officials had become increasingly familiar with Nigeria, especially their air forces, according to Lt. Col. Dave MacKenzie of 17 AF's Plans and Programs directorate which is responsible for planning and conducting engagements with African nations. 

Colonel MacKenzie said discussions between AFAFRICA and Nigerian defense officials began in October 2008, which led to his January visit to the country. 

"My first visit was to conduct an assessment of their C-130 fleet for reconstitution," Colonel MacKenzie said. Since then, he's made a subsequent trip to Nigeria in August. "To date, we've assisted in getting an aircraft ready for a one-time flight to the depot for inspection, and have been asked to begin looking at assisting with another." 

The relationship is expanding, according to officials on both sides. Nigerian Defence Department Chief of Training and Operations Maj. Gen. Ishaku Danladi Pennap said that visit was the next step in increasing the effectiveness of the burgeoning relationship. 

"We're here to discuss with [U.S. Africa Command] ways of improving engagements between our military and AFRICOM," General Pennap said. "This visit has been very impressive, educational, and we are better informed. We are happy to be here and hope this visit will translate to a better relationship between our armed forces and American forces, and by extension, our two countries." 

The evolution of this relationship is similar to that going on with a series of nations on the continent, according to General Callan. The ultimate aim is building capacity and improving the standard of living for Africans. 

"We consider our relationship with partners such as Nigeria to be on-going and long-term," General Callan said. "Our overall goal is to improve safety and security within the air domain for our partners across the continent. A more safe and secure air domain will lead to expanded investment by civilian air traffic, which will, in turn, boost economic development." 

After standing up in October 2008, AFAFRICA is finishing a busy first year of building relationships on the continent. The unit's staff function will declare full operational capability Oct. 1. with more than 80 engagement events projected for AFAFRICA's second year of operations - a more than two-fold increase.