Africa Command, Air Forces Africa bring ideas to Air University

MAXWELL AFB, Ala. -- Air University, U.S. Africa Command and the 17th Air Force (Air Forces Africa) kicked off a symposium March 31 to foster recommendations for the U.S. Air Force's involvement in Africa Command. 

AFAfrica is the air arm of the relatively new unified command and the topic du jour of the conference.

Civilian aviation industry professionals, academics and military personnel -- including some from African countries like Senegal and South Africa -- attended.

"I look forward to the end of the symposium and your recommendations for us," said Maj. Gen. Michael Snodgrass, chief of staff for Africa Command.

General Snodgrass laid out an array of challenges for attendees to ponder as they discuss the air domain in their breakout sessions. Poverty, disease and violence are just a few of the factors the focus groups must consider as they hash out their ideas for how 17th AF, as the air component, can be most effective under the new command.

An increase of Africa Command personnel over time at U.S. embassies across the continent, paired with attempts to liaise with about 16 African countries over the next couple months, will translate to amplified effectiveness for the command, the general said.

And this is only the beginning of a nuanced, long-term plan Africa Command will carry out in its effort to engage with African militaries in a helpful, peace-pursuing way.

AFAfrica is one important element of that plan, especially considering the region's failing air assets and disjointed approach to air security.

"Sustained security engagement" is the most important phrase to consider when understanding how the U.S. military hopes to help countries on the continent, General Snodgrass said.

Cooperation among many parties, just like interaction this week among attendees from many organizations and agencies, will be the greatest factor for affecting change in the region, said Maj. Gen. Ron Ladnier, 17th Air Force commander.

"The one thing I have learned is there is no such thing as an 'Africa expert,'" General Ladnier said. "There are too many cultures, too many challenges, too many different conditions on the continent."

Thus, in the absence of a true expert, it is imperative for "interested students" - as the general describes himself and conference attendees - to pool their resources and ideas.

Drawing from this pool of ideas and extended dialogue throughout the week, conference organizers will work to synthesize the week's discussions in a detailed list of top recommendations for 17th AF's best way ahead.

After attendees have departed, facilitators plan to spend an entire day fusing the meat of every breakout session into a master document that will suggest to U.S. Air Force and military leadership how best to engage the air domain in Africa.

(Editor's note: This is the second in a series about 17th AF and the Air Force's symposium on its involvement in Africa Command.)