Nigerien Air Base 201 sharpens community ties

U.S. Air Force Col. Trey Rawls, 435th Air Expeditionary Wing Commander, holds a baby at an orphanage July 20, 2018 in Agadez, Niger. Service members routinely visit the orphanage and other areas of the local community as part of a civil affairs effort to build a sense of trust and credibility with their host nation partners. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nick Wilson)

AGADEZ, Niger — U.S. Africa Command continues to work by, with and through their host nation partners to promote peace and stability throughout the African region.

The U.S. Army civil affairs team at Nigerien Air Base 201, Niger, contributes to this mission by reducing the susceptibility of violent extremists in the Agadez area and by growing trust between the local community and U.S. service members.

“It’s important because we’re partners in this region,” stated U.S. Army Capt. Alexander d’Orchimont, Alpha Company 411 Civil Affairs Battalion team leader. “Part of our presence in the Agadez area include having good relations with the Nigerien government.”

d’Orchimont sees this as not only furthering the mission of the U.S. Air Force and the 435th Air Expeditionary Wing, but strengthening partner networks for AFRICOM.

The civil affairs team coordinates a joint mission alongside Airmen of the 724th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron to liaise with key players in the Agadez region by submitting project proposals to build good will between the people of Agadez and as the tenants of Nigerien Air Base 201.

Together, U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force members collaborate to help their Nigerien counterparts to see U.S. service members as friends.

“It’s a good opportunity for locals in the area to see American faces to let them know that we’re partners and to not have any confusion about what we’re doing here,” d’Orchimont said.

The U.S. is currently in Agadez at the request of the government of Niger to build a new runway and all associated pavements, facilities, and infrastructure of Nigerien Air Base 201.

U.S. service members gather for a photo with children and volunteers from an orphanage July 20, 2018 in Agadez, Niger. The service members routinely visit the orphanage in an effort to build good will between Nigeriens who live in Agadez and the U.S. service members from Nigerien Air Base 201. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nick Wilson)

“This is one of the poorest regions in the world,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Tristan Medellin, Alpha Company 411 Civil Affairs noncommissioned officer. “Through these efforts, we demonstrate that we care.”

One example is by incorporating an artisan’s bazaar with local vendors to sell cultural items with service members.

“The people on the base are enthusiastic about the artisans,” Medellin said. “Every little bit of money that we put into the economy helps the rest of the region.”

The bazaars also provide service members who typically don’t have the opportunity to travel off base with an opportunity to interact with the locals.

“Even if it’s just a couple of hours to experience the culture, they can have that experience to bring home and tell their families,” d’Orchimont said. “Those are our favorite types of projects because the bazaar generates over $6,000 USD in revenue for the local community. That’s one of the best ways we can inject some local capital into the local community.”

While these bazaars stimulate the economy, coordinating orphanage trips and sporting events build a sense of camaraderie between U.S. service members and the local population. For example, a recent basketball game had its largest turnout yet with hundreds of Agadez community members in attendance.

“Our job is not just business. It’s not just about governmental partnerships,” Medellin said. “It also highlights cultural involvement by showcasing that we want to get involved with the community.”

The civil affairs team also partnered with a U.S. women’s organization on Nigerien Air Base 201 to organize the local women’s soccer game.

“The women’s games demonstrate to local girls that they, too, can get involved in activities that help them develop leadership and sportsmanship skills. These games have been very popular among our troops and the local community,” Medellin said.

According to d’Orchimont and Medellin, the opportunities to interact with the Agadez community are endless.

“The Agadez community knows there is an air base here because its construction is clearly visible from the city limits,” d’Orchimont said. “But many of them are not aware of the projects we’re doing.”

Upcoming civil affairs proposals include building four new schools to set up a solar technician project to complement the investment from the French for solar infrastructure in the area.

“Additionally, we are working to sponsor veterinarians to assist with farmers who depend on farm animals in the region,” d’Orchimont said.

“We are also looking to install solar wells and fund the construction of not only schools, but also school desks and school chairs using local labor.”

“We’re not here just to build an air base,” d’Orchimont said. “We’re here in part to help the people of Agadez improve their quality life.”

In terms of forward thinking, Air Base 201’s civil affairs team seeks to continue efforts to push the envelope, in close coordination with their host nation partners, as they work against actors seeking to destabilize the region.

“We want to dispel incorrect assumptions about this base,” Medellin said. “This is what the optimal civil affairs mission summary should be. We’re going out to the town and we’re doing real humanitarian work and also building enduring relationships with the government and the host nation.”