Making history: forming the Association of African Air Forces

U.S. 17th Expeditionary Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Timothy Ray signs the charter formalizing the Association of African Air Forces, by the U.S. and three African nations. The charter signing was the last action of the 5th Annual African Air Chiefs Symposium, co-hosted by the Mauritanian Air Force and U.S Air Forces Africa is taking place in Nouakchott, Mauritania, Sept. 14-17, 2015. It is designed to foster and strengthen the bonds of friendship, cooperation and mutual support among its members. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Chrissy Best/Released)

U.S. 17th Expeditionary Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Timothy Ray signs the charter formalizing the Association of African Air Forces, by the U.S. and three African nations. The charter signing was the last action of the 5th Annual African Air Chiefs Symposium, co-hosted by the Mauritanian Air Force and U.S Air Forces Africa is taking place in Nouakchott, Mauritania, Sept. 14-17, 2015. It is designed to foster and strengthen the bonds of friendship, cooperation and mutual support among its members. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Chrissy Best/Released)

Mauritanian and U.S. leadership participate in the opening ceremony of the 5th Annual African Air Chiefs Symposium in Nouakchott, Mauritania, Sept. 15, 2015. The Mauritanian Air Force is co-hosting this year’s African Air Chiefs Symposium along-side U.S. Air Forces Africa Sept. 14-17, to give Air Chiefs from the U.S. and 18 African countries the chance to discuss the role of Air Power in addressing African challenges. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Chrissy Best/Released)

Mauritanian and U.S. leadership participate in the opening ceremony of the 5th Annual African Air Chiefs Symposium in Nouakchott, Mauritania, Sept. 15, 2015. The Mauritanian Air Force is co-hosting this year’s African Air Chiefs Symposium along-side U.S. Air Forces Africa Sept. 14-17, to give Air Chiefs from the U.S. and 18 African countries the chance to discuss the role of Air Power in addressing African challenges. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Chrissy Best/Released)

Mauritanian Air Force Chief of Staff Col. Mohamed Lehreitani greets U.S. 17th Expeditionary Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Timothy Ray as he arrives at the Palais des Congres for the opening ceremony of the 5th Annual African Air Chiefs Symposium in Nouakchott, Mauritania, Sept. 15, 2015. The Mauritanian Air Force is co-hosting this year’s African Air Chiefs Symposium along-side U.S. Air Forces Africa Sept. 14-17.  The event gives Air Chiefs from the U.S. and 18 African countries the chance to discuss the role of Air Power in addressing African challenges. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Chrissy Best/Released)

Mauritanian Air Force Chief of Staff Col. Mohamed Lehreitani greets U.S. 17th Expeditionary Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Timothy Ray as he arrives at the Palais des Congres for the opening ceremony of the 5th Annual African Air Chiefs Symposium in Nouakchott, Mauritania, Sept. 15, 2015. The Mauritanian Air Force is co-hosting this year’s African Air Chiefs Symposium along-side U.S. Air Forces Africa Sept. 14-17. The event gives Air Chiefs from the U.S. and 18 African countries the chance to discuss the role of Air Power in addressing African challenges. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Chrissy Best/Released)

Mauritanian and U.S. leadership participate in the first of the roundtable discussions with the Air Chiefs and their delegates from 18 African nations.  The roundtable discussions included peacekeeping operations, countering violent extremist organizations, air force development strategies, airfield security and formalizing a network of African airmen.  The 5th Annual African Air Chiefs Symposium, co-hosted by the Mauritanian Air Force and U.S Air Forces Africa took place in Nouakchott, Mauritania, Sept. 14-17, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Chrissy Best/Released)

Mauritanian and U.S. leadership participate in the first of the roundtable discussions with the Air Chiefs and their delegates from 18 African nations. The roundtable discussions included peacekeeping operations, countering violent extremist organizations, air force development strategies, airfield security and formalizing a network of African airmen. The 5th Annual African Air Chiefs Symposium, co-hosted by the Mauritanian Air Force and U.S Air Forces Africa took place in Nouakchott, Mauritania, Sept. 14-17, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Chrissy Best/Released)

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania -- The vibrant, white room, lined with the colorful flags of the United States and 18 African nations, along with the 2015 African Air Chiefs Symposium banner, seemed to welcome those bearing witness to the signing of the charter formalizing the Association of African Air Forces in Nouakchott, Mauritania,  Sept. 17.

Designed to foster and strengthen the bonds of friendship, cooperation and mutual support among its members, the charter outlines the continued exchange of experiences.  The charter encourages members to seek opportunities to cooperate and collaborate to improve and support air operations across Africa.

"This underscores the U.S. commitment to security and stability in Africa.  It is very important," said Lt. Gen. Timothy Ray, 17th Expeditionary Air Force commander.

"As airpower leaders, we can bring together our collective capabilities and do great things for Africa," said Ray.  "As an Airman, I can't think of a more ideal location to foster air power capabilities.  Africa is tailor-made for air power solutions."

The Mauritanian Air Force co-hosted the 5th annual African Air Chiefs Symposium alongside U.S. Air Forces Africa, Sept. 14 to 17.  The forum gives air chiefs from the United States and Africa the opportunity to discuss topics pertinent to the future of the second largest continent in the world and the role of air power in addressing African challenges.

"We are very grateful to have the opportunity to be able to co-host this year's AACS event." said Mauritanian Air Force Chief of Staff Col. Mohamed Lehreitani. "We are looking forward to continually improve our positive relationships and partnerships between countries and have meaningful discussions in this forum."

The four nations that signed the charter, the United States, Mauritania, Cotê Ivoire, and Senegal, will have an equal voice within the association, and will be recognized as the air forces or the equivalent service of every other signing country.  Other African nations in attendance expressed willingness to sign but are still awaiting necessary approval from their leadership.

"We are here to continue to grow and strengthen some of our existing relationships and possibly grow new ones," Ray said. "The problems in front of us all really take a lot of teamwork, so those relationships are essential."

Throughout the symposium, there were round-table discussions and numerous break-out sessions on specific regional issues.  Topics included conversations on peacekeeping operations, countering violent extremist organizations, air force development strategies, airfield security and formalizing a network of African airmen.

"What we are having is an honest dialogue that leads to a partnership we can all stand behind as airpower leaders," Ray said. "Together, we can move forward from this symposium and bring those capabilities to accomplish great things for Africa."

For some of the air chiefs it was the first time they have had an opportunity to talk to their counterparts from other African nations.

"As we continue to hold these symposiums we'll get to know one another more and more in the process," said Air Commodore Morgan Nyadodui, Chief Staff Officer for the Ghana Air Force. "You'll get to trust one another more eventually to alleviate suspicion."

Along with fostering multi-national trust, the symposium also gave U.S. Service members a unique glimpse into the diverse culture of the various African nations.

"In order to ensure that we continue to foster our relationships, we had events planned not only in the conference room during the day, but also had social events in the evenings," said U.S. Air Force Col. Stephen Hughes, the Air Forces Africa International Affairs division chief.  "One evening meal was hosted by the Mauritanian's, giving them the opportunity to share their culture with all participants from across the continent."

Hughes said it is essential for the United States to continue working alongside African partners. 

"By continually building relationships and engaging in open discussions, we will see this partnership pay dividends when the time comes and they have to work together."