Air advisors promote HA/DR skills at African Partnership Flight

  • Published
  • By Maj. Thomas Risner
  • 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron
Bonjour and As-Salaam-Alaikum. What do these phrases have in common? They are common ways to say ‘hello’ amongst the seven countries that participated in African Partnership Flight (APF) recently hosted in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. In late April, more than 20 Airmen joined 60 counterparts from Burkina Faso, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, and Niger to discuss maintenance and logistics principles when planning support for HA/DR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) operations.

Over the course of a week, participants of the Air Forces Africa (AFAF) led event visited an African heritage museum, sat with a regional chieftain, shared a Meal, Ready-to-Eat luncheon, and survived a crash-landing on the moon as part of a team-building exercise. Many of these countries--most of which share a border with at least another APF participant--have never had the opportunity to work together before.

A crucial part of the exercise was facilitated by a nine-person Africa-focused air advisor team from the 621st Contingency Response Wing’s 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron, which included three personnel who had previously directly supported HA/DR operations as part of Combined Task Force Hurricane Matthew in Haiti.

The air advisor team immediately broke through borders by separating the various participants into different smaller groups. The MSAS facilitators felt it was necessary for the different countries to go outside their comfort zones and solve problems together with partner nations in order to develop critical thinking skills as well as interoperability. The 818th MSAS team from Joint Base McGuire-Dix Lakehurst, N.J., was led by two African Foreign Area Officers (FAOs), whose job it is to understand African cultures and peoples. APF was an opportune occasion to interact with multiple African nations during one event and showcase the Air Force officers’ expertise.

“I have worked alongside several of this year’s APF participants in previous bilateral engagements,” said Capt. Megan Gallagher, an FAO assigned to the 818th MSAS. “Through events like APF, participating nations have the opportunity to learn more about one another’s African partners and gain a better appreciation of what defines them.”

Gallagher said it is through exchanges like APF that participants can advance their critical thinking skills and understand how their African neighbors both perceive and seek to solve problem sets.

Capt. Robert Kent, an operations officer assigned to the 305th Aerial Port Squadron, and Capt. Ian Mazerski, a maintenance officer from 321st Contingency Response Squadron, augmented the 818th MSAS team in order to provide their knowledge and experience to lead discussions with the African partners in the realms of logistics and maintenance.

“I was really impressed with the questions the participants asked,” Mazerski said. “It really demonstrated how well they understood the concepts.”

The discussion portion of APF culminated in a tabletop exercise, in which 10, five-man teams were given an opportunity to apply HA/DR planning principles in a choose-your-own-adventure type scenario. Using logistics and maintenance considerations during a hypothetical disaster, they were asked to choose what airport to operate out of, how to set up their equipment on the airfield, which configuration to use on their aircraft, and what critical supplies to bring along. Although teams were rewarded for number of wounded evacuated, supplies delivered, and number of sorties and hours flown, the goal was for them to think critically and make decisions together.

Exercise participants agreed the exercise was a huge success and expressed their gratitude for having the opportunity to apply the knowledge shared during APF.

After several long days of navigating scenarios, attendees let loose during a cultural evening where the entire APF was treated with music and traditional dance ensembles from Burkina Faso and the United States.

During the closing ceremony, U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso Andrew Young recognized participants for their dedication and commitment to fostering regional interoperability.

Participants left APF knowing more about each other's cultures and their nations' capabilities to work together as a team.