Pretoria Image: U.S. Army Africa commander visits South Africa March 2010

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U.S. Army Africa commander meets South African military leaders

By Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Africa

VICENZA, Italy – Shortly after Maj. Gen. William B. Garrett III’s aircraft touched down at Johannesburg’s Tambo International Airport, he was shaking hands with Brig. Gen. Chris Gildenhuys, commanding general of the South African Army Armour Formation. The two officers last met in Monterey, Calif., during a July 2009 bi-lateral conference sponsored by the U.S. military.

In a sign of U.S. Army Africa’s growing relationship with South Africa, it was now South Africa’s turn to host the commander of U.S. Army Africa.

“Organizations don’t collaborate, people do,” Garrett said. “This visit is an invaluable opportunity to strengthen the relationship between our Army and the South African Army.”

On March 7th, Garrett flew to South Africa for a weeklong tour, marking his first visit to that country. In the days to follow, Gildenhuys escorted Garrett to meet South Africa’s senior army leaders and tour South Africa’s key military installations near Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Cape Town.

In Pretoria, Garrett stopped at the U.S. Embassy to meet with U.S. Ambassador Donald H. Gips and the Deputy Chief of Mission, Ambassador Helen La Lime. Then, at South Africa’s army headquarters, Garrett spoke with Lt. Gen. Solly Zacharia Shoke, chief of the South Africa’s army, about transformation efforts underway in South Africa’s army. Garrett shared recent accomplishments of U.S. Army Africa soldiers and civilians, who work with the land forces of many African nations to strengthen mutual security capacity and capabilities.

At South Africa’s Joint Operations Headquarters, Garrett met with Rear Admiral Phillip Schoultz, Director General for Joint Operations and Acting Chief for Joint Operations who discussed his nation’s peacekeeping efforts. Afterward, Garrett met with officers at the South African Army College. While visiting the 43rd South African Brigade headquarters, Garrett met with Brig. Gen. Lawrence Smith and observed preparation for training under the U.S. State Department-led African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program. Then, Garrett stopped at South Africa’s army engineer formation headquarters for a series of information briefings.

“We have a lot to learn from the South African Army,” Garrett said. “We will use that knowledge to update the U.S. Army’s training and doctrine while enhancing interoperability between our forces.”

The next day, Garrett flew from Waterkloof Air Force Base on Pretoria’s outskirts to Bloemspruit Air Force Base near Bloemfontein. He toured South Africa’s armor school and visited the 44th Parachute Regiment. From Bloemfontein, Garrett flew to Ysterplaat Air Force Based near Cape Town to learn more about South Africa’s reserve forces at Fort Ikapa , followed by a visit to South Africa’s joint tactical headquarters at Western Cape.

U.S. Army Africa has already seen how senior leader engagements can quickly develop into beneficial training opportunities.

In March 2009, Command Sgt. Maj. Earl Rice – then U.S. Army Africa’s senior enlisted leader – visited South Africa’s Special Forces headquarters, a visit conducted with representatives from the U.S. Army Ranger Training Brigade. Within a few weeks, U.S. soldiers got a taste of hardcore South African special forces training. Three Army NCOs underwent a grueling three-week survival course in the South African bush, learning valuable lessons on adapting to the harsh environment, maintaining endurance and overcoming nearly insurmountable challenges—tools they carried back to their units.

Meanwhile, U.S. Army Africa is increasing its capacity building efforts in Africa through a continuing series of senior leader engagements, part of the command’s strategy to expand cooperative relationships and develop enduring partnerships across the continent. Senior leader engagements are a traditional tool used by Army leaders to enhance capacity building efforts.

Leaders use these engagements to gain better regional understanding and insights while encouraging follow-on initiatives such as military-to-military familiarization events and combined exercises and training opportunities.

In July 2009, Garrett was among several U.S. Department of Defense leaders who sat down with South African Ministry of Defense officers during the 11th annual U.S.-RSA Defense Committee meeting in Monterey. While at the bi-lateral conference, military leaders discussed policy, familiarization events, military support to combating HIV/AIDS, plus education and training opportunities for military members.

Several military-to-military familiarization events in 2010 are already being planned, in coordination with U.S. military officers at the U.S. Embassy in South Africa. These events include officer and NCO professional development activities, a leader exchange program, and various engagement activities including military medicine, military police, facilities management and helicopter operations.

The New York National Guard leads cooperative military efforts with South Africa under the State Partnership Program. Upcoming SPP engagements include events involving senior enlisted leaders, military police and chaplains.

“This visit will strengthen the relationship with our South African colleagues,” Garrett said. “Our task now is to expand this relationship into an enduring partnership between the U.S. Army and the South African Army.”

PHOTOS by Capt. Thomas Laney, U.S. Army Africa

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