Engagement boosts relationships in Africa

by Maj. Paula Kurtz
17th Air Force Public Affairs

Focused on establishing a strong bond with African partners, Maj. Gen. Ronald Ladnier, 17th Air Force and U.S. Air Forces Africa commander, traveled to Botswana and South Africa June 7 to 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, Lt. Col. Donald Henry from the Plans Directorate, and his public affairs officer Maj. Paula Kurtz. After traveling 15 hours from the United States, 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 United States, 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.
Broad discussion with the country team highlighted areas of opportunity that are ripe for engagement, including trade expansion, health programs and economic diversification.

“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.”

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. After  his presentation, he gave a radio interview discussing the reasons for establishing U.S. Africa Command, along with the command’s goals and objectives in Africa.
The group also visited Bephatshwe Air Base, where they met with the BDF Air Arm Commander Maj. Gen. Tumelo Moemedi Paledi and toured the air base facilities.

On Wednesday, the group traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa. The group met first with the Charge d’ Affairs 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, 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.
Over the past several years, the United States and South Africa have worked together in the areas of C-130 maintenance and logistics, international military education and training for 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.

“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,” the general said. “I’m looking forward to future visits and continued dialogue with Botswana, South Africa and many other African partners.”