Senior Leader Engagement boosts relationships in Africa

Ramstein Air Base -- Focused on establishing a strong bond with African partners, Maj. Gen. Ronald Ladnier, commander of Seventeenth Air Force and U.S. Air Forces Africa, traveled to Botswana and South Africa June 7-12 to meet with local defense force officials and interagency partners in the U.S. Embassies of both nations. Face-to-face meetings with the local officials enabled an extensive exchange of information through mission briefings, operational discussions and tours of air base facilities. 

"My goal was to come away with a better understanding of the country team's vision, local forces' capabilities, their future plans, and how we can be helpful in our engagement," General Ladnier said. "The best way we can start to do this is by establishing a two-way dialogue, and then really listening to what our partners have to say about their goals and objectives." 

The general was accompanied by 17th AF Command Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Steffen, and Lt. Col. Donald Henry from the Plans Directorate. Traveling 15 hours from the U.S., where he had attended a week-long meeting of U.S. Air Force senior leaders at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, General Ladnier met up with his team on the ground in South Africa, where they boarded a short flight to neighboring Botswana. 

On arrival in Gaborone, the team traveled to the U.S. Embassy where they spent the morning with U.S. Ambassador Stephen Nolan and several members of his country team to discuss the bilateral relationship between Botswana and the U.S., which the ambassador described as "very receptive" on the part of the Batswanans. He pointed specifically to the Botswana's participation in the National Guard State Partnership Program with the state of North Carolina, where they have been an active partner and engaged with members of the North Carolina National Guard since 2008. 

"The North Carolina program is one of the best state partnership programs because the BDF (Botswana Defense Force) is so receptive," Ambassador Nolan said. "Comments I've received from the BDF mention how appreciative they are for the exchange opportunities. There is a history of contact and a willingness to engage with U.S. forces and we need to capitalize on that." 

Broad discussion with the country team highlighted areas of opportunity that are ripe for engagement including trade expansion, health programs, economic diversification, and infrastructure development. 

"Botswana is a shining example of an African nation coming into independence and leading the way in the right way," the Ambassador said. "As African countries expand and become more integrated, Botswana is a country that gets it right and is poised to be a leader for other nations." 

Following lunch, the 17th AF team traveled to the Botswana Defense Command and Staff College, where General Ladnier gave remarks to an audience of 60, including 36 mid-grade officers in residence, on the trademarks of successful militaries. Following his presentation, General Ladnier provided an interview with a local radio station where he discussed the reasons for establishing U.S. Africa Command, along with the command's goals and objectives in Africa. 

Wrapping up the visit on Tuesday morning, the group visited the Bephatshwe Air Base, where they met with the BDF Air Arm Commander Maj. Gen. Tumelo Moemedi Paledi, and toured the air base facilities, to include cargo, fighter and helicopter units as well as training facilities. 

"We received a very warm welcome and had a very productive discussion with Maj. Gen. Paledi and his staff," General Ladnier said. "Some of their internally developed capabilities, such as the engine depot and new staff college, were very impressive. Overall, I would say they are very enthusiastic about expanding some of our current programs, to include aircraft maintenance and development of mid-level officers and NCOs." 

Wednesday morning found the group in Johannesburg, South Africa, where a similar itinerary awaited. The group met first with the Charge d' Affairs Ms. Helen LaLime and her core country team at the U.S. Embassy, followed by a visit to South Africa Air Force Headquarters for a meeting and luncheon with the SAAF Chief Lt. Gen. Gagiano. On Thursday the team visited Air Force Base Swartkop, a SAAF air base in Capetown, and on Friday morning General Ladnier addressed the South African Strategic Theory Conference at Stellenbosch College on the topic of airlift during humanitarian operations. 

"With recent elections and the change of administration in South Africa, many are watching to see how that will affect our bilateral relationship," General Ladnier said. "We enjoyed a very warm reception from the South African Air Force and hope to continue, and possibly expand, our military engagement with this important partner nation." 

Over the past several years, the U.S. and South Africa have worked together in the areas of C-130 maintenance and logistics, International Military Education and Training for their officers and NCOs, and in 2007 established a State Partnership Program with the New York National Guard. During this visit, SAAF members expressed interest in an exchange instructor pilot, unmanned aerial vehicles and search and rescue operations. 

"This was really a great trip," General Ladnier said. "We went to start the dialogue and find out where we can be helpful. Seeing the facilities and discussing first-hand the capabilities, goals and objectives of these partner-nation air forces really enhances our perspective when it comes to future plans and engagement. I'm looking forward to future visits and continued dialogue with Botswana, South Africa and many other African partners."