African Air Chiefs discuss Airman development, training

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Krystal Ardrey
  • U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa Public Affairs
The 2017 African Air Chiefs Symposium came to an official close in Kasane, Botswana, May 17, 2017.

Twenty-nine air chiefs, or their representatives, came from all across Africa to meet and discuss important continental issues, build relationships, and create solutions to their most pressing challenges. 

“The nature of warfare has changed, and it has changed significantly on [the African] continent,” said Gen. Tod D. Wolters, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa commander said in a speech during the symposium. “Numerous violent extremist organizations are infiltrating the globe and this continent; and we in the air domain posses unique characteristics to provide the halt force to whatever violent extremist organization starts to infiltrate the sovereignty of your nations.”

In effort to ensure the air chiefs’ are prepared to address ever-changing and new threats in their countries, this year’s conference focused on the training aspect of force development. During the symposium, there were several round-table discussions on a range of topics including resource sharing, training, personnel recovery and workshops about the Cessna C-208 and the C-130 Hercules air frames. 

“This is something that is important to every air chief here”, said Botswana Defence Force Air Arm Col. Hendrick Rakgantswana, Thebephatshwa Air Base commander and lead AACS planner. “Every air force must continuously build and train their airmen to maintain readiness. This is important to addressing the security issue and keeping our countries safe”.

The symposium started in 2011 and has since developed tremendously. As noted earlier, there were 29 countries represented, including the United States. This conference is significant, not only because it’s the largest symposium to date; it also garnered more briefings led by African leaders than ever before. 

“In the early days, the Americans would do all the planning and would lead the briefs,” said Col Ricardo Trimillos, chief of international affairs for Air Forces in Europe and Africa. During this symposium, “majority of the briefs were given by [our African] partners, our partner nations coming in and giving African solutions to African problems as they discuss training and force developments as we have gone through today”.

The symposium was co-hosted by the U.S. and Botswana, and marked the first time the event has been held in the southern region of Africa. As part of the conference, the air chiefs learned about the history, culture, and important projects in Botswana during an afternoon of cultural immersion. 

During the immersion trip, the air chiefs visited and paid respect to Lesoma Memorial Monument. This monument honors 15 fallen BDF soldiers and one local villager who were killed in Lesoma village at a base camp in 1978 when the civil war in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) split over into Botswana.

The cultural immersion was essential to building and fostering the air chiefs’ relationships outside of the conference setting. 

This increased trust and willingness to get to know and work with one another is apparent in the Association of African Air Chiefs Charter, which an additional five nations signed during the closing ceremony of the symposium. 

“We're really excited we had additional nations sign the charter,” said Heidi H. Grant, Air Force, International Affairs deputy under secretary. “The nations who signed provide a liaison officer. We'll be able to correspond with them more often and work towards our mutual security goals here in the region.” 

In total, 19 air chiefs have signed this charter, which marks their commitment to working together to better improve their air capabilities and the air chiefs’ network in Africa.