KIGALI, Rwanda, Apr 22, 2009 - A U.S. Africa Command delegation led by Gen. William E. Ward, met with Rwandan defense leaders and watched displays of Rwandan Defense Force (RDF) capabilities during a two-day visit April 20-21, 2009.

This was Ward's second visit to Rwanda. His first was in February 2007 when he was the deputy commander of U.S. European Command.

"This really validated what I saw during my first time here... that this is a professional force, that they are well trained, that they are well led (and) disciplined," he said.

Ward met early in the day with RDF leaders who shared their lessons learned from recent deployment to peacekeeping operations in Darfur.

The RDF, whose force numbers about 32,000, committed five battalions of troops -- roughly 3,000 -- to the 19,000-strong military peacekeeping force assigned to the United Nations-Africa Union Mission in Darfur, or UNAMID.

UNAMID is tasked with protecting civilians and contributing to security for humanitarian assistance to the more than 2 million people displaced from their homes in the region since 2003 as a result of civil wars.

"It helps me understand what goes on there from their point of view, which is very, very important," Ward said.

Ward also toured the RDF's Gabiro School of Infantry, located about 130 kilometers in the hills northeast of the capital city.

The school first opened in April 1994 during the campaign against genocide. While originally designed as a basic military training school, it is now the primary school for all infantry, armor, artillery and engineering training of RDF officers and enlisted members.

During the tour, RDF soldiers put on a spirited display of their skills with small arms, rocket propelled grenades, and machine guns during a live-fire exercise.

Ward said the RDF investment in the school shows that the force approaches the training and care for its people in a professional manner.

"It also reinforces that they don't need a lot of help," Ward said. "These are professional forces. Where we can come and provide the sort of assistance that they ask us to do to complement what they do, then this (visit) helps me understand that."

RDF spokesman Major Jill Rutaremara said the U.S. military and RDF share a robust military-to-military relationship.

"We have received training in a number of professional military institutions in the U.S., from our NCOs to cadets in school like West Point," Rutaremara said.

Under the International Military Education and Training Program (IMET), Rutaremara said about 40 RDF personnel attend U.S. professional military education schools each year.

In October 2008, the U.S. Air Force Academy donated more than 500 books to the Rwandan Military Academy to increase its library selection of English resource material and technical knowledge in subjects such as leadership and military history.

These are the types of resources the RDF is asking of the U.S. military, said AFRICOM Command Sergeant Major Mark Ripka.

This was Ripka's third visit to Rwanda in the 18 months since Africa Command's inception, and he noted he has seen continued improvements in their training programs.

He said he believes the RDF "really doesn't need the U.S. military to train their troops."

"This is one of the most professional forces I've seen," Ripka said of the RDF. "They are more than capable of training themselves and educating themselves. They just need updated material and insight into training methodology so they can continue progressing."

Ripka, Ward's principal senior enlisted adviser, has traveled to nearly 20 countries in Africa focused on helping African militaries strengthen their professional military education and development of their noncommissioned officer corps.

"The RDF has the opportunities to go (to other countries) to get all kinds of different education and doctrinal perspectives," Ripka explained. "The most important thing is they have to develop their own doctrine, given their culture, their tradition, their history, and it has to be theirs."

Ward finished his trip to Rwanda April 22 with an early morning press conference at the Kigali International Airport with Rutaremara and U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda Stuart Symington IV. Ward's delegation continued to Mombasa, Kenya, to attend the U.S. Army Central Command's Land Forces Symposium.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16