RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany --
U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa recently implemented a new program, AFAFRICA Cadre of African Bridge Advisors, across the command aimed at improving the cultural and language gap when operating in Africa.
AFAF CABA is a database comprised of active duty, reserve, guard and civilian Airmen from around the Air Force who were either born and raised in Africa or have extensive knowledge of Africa who share their cultural knowledge and language skills not included on the Air Force Culture and Language Center’s Language Enabled Airman Program Strategic Languages List.
“It’s not enough to know the language; you have to know all the pieces that surround the language and culture is a really big piece,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Olayanju “Pops” Popoola, Program Manager for AFAF CABA. “Translating is not binary. We should understand nuance, understand which phrases to use and how to translate technically.”
The overall goal of AFAF CABA is to build long-term relationships and partnerships within Africa.
The program is the brainchild of Popoola, a reservist with the 970th Airborne Air Control Squadron at Tinker AFB, OK, on staff in the International Affairs Division of USAFE – AFAFRICA A589 Directorate. Popoola was born and raised in Nigeria.
“I met a lot of people like myself who were born and raised in Africa that have language skills and cultural understanding most of which have never been used for the Air Force,” said Popoola. “Air Forces Africa does so much on the African continent; by utilizing the skills and understandings of these individuals, we can maximize our investments in Africa.”
In September 2019, Popoola got an invite from Col Kevin Bray to test AFAF CABA during the Air Space Access Working Group hosted by USAFE - AFAFRICA A3 Airfield Operations.
Although the working group is primarily used for European and NATO audiences, four African countries – Kenya, Chad, Djibouti and Niger – were invited to the working group.
Popoola said in addition to himself, three other advisors contributed to the working group. Amongst them, they spoke French, Swahili, Arabic and Hausa.
“I suggested we have an African-countries-only session and we told them to tell us what the issues were and they told us everything,” said Popoola. “For Niger, problems they had been having with US Air Force air activity out of Nigerien Air Base 201 over the past few years were all laid down.”
Part of the problems included communications with drone operations and airfield management between Niger and Air Forces Africa in regards to opening and operating out of AB 201.
Once the team knew where the issues were, they were able to concentrate their efforts and reach a resolution.
“Nigerien Air Base 201 is up and running now, and I am proud that AFAF CABA had something to do with that success. We were able to establish new relationships that we will build to partnerships and keep that going,” said Popoola. “We have points of contacts, they have points of contacts and it really demonstrated the power of cultural understanding married up with language ability.”
Since the AFAF CABA program is designed for AFAFRICA by AFAFRICA, the staff doesn’t have to compete with someone else who needs the language assets and it allows Air Forces Africa staff full control of it, summarized Popoola.
The program offers three levels of support to customers they can use for training, exercises, translating, mobile training teams, subject matter expertise, professional military education, workshops, conferences, seminars and more.
“Level one support is an informal advisor who can offer cultural and ethnic background knowledge during mission planning prior to the customer going to Africa” said Popoola. “Level two is an embedded advisor that can go with a customer to Africa and provide whatever support a customer needs in-country. Level three support is a strategic advisor who can talk long term strategy and give historical reference about the country and how best to approach the programs and initiatives desired to be established in the country.”
In the short amount of time since its inception, Popoola said a cadre of more than 100 advisors has been compiled with the cadre pool growing daily. At Ramstein alone, there are 36 people who meet the criteria for the program and speak 24 different languages among them.
With a program like AFAF CABA that brings language and cultural expertise to the mission, USAFE – AFAFRICA has a new tool at its disposal to build partner capacity missions and strengthen partnerships throughout Africa.