Liberian soldier recounts experiences during civil war
January 20, 2010
FORT LEE, VA. (Jan. 20, 2009) -- Armed Forces of Liberia Staff Sgt. Raymond Mulbah, currently attending the Army Logistics University, was 16 when a civil war broke out in his country that lasted more than 15 years and resulted in more than 200,000 deaths.
Through his experiences, hard work ethic and a number of great mentors, Mulbah has been able to advance from a private to staff sergeant in less than two years. This impressive feat makes him a respected noncommissioned officer in the supply and logistics section of his army.
However, leadership didn't always come easy for Mulbah, now 36. When the war started, he was the oldest of eight brothers and sisters, with no father figure around. By default, Mulbah took on the responsibility of primary provider at an early age. During the war, Mulbah remembers having to flee to the woods with his family and hide for days, weeks and - on several occasions - months at a time. It was during this time that Mulbah matured as a man, gained a great appreciation for family and grew spiritually.
"It's hard to describe what we went through," he said. "Not knowing where we were going or where we were going to find food. Most of the time we would just start walking, the entire time thinking about what we might find. If we had a chance to talk to my brothers, they would probably serve as a witness for how much I grew up. I started to think less about me and more about the importance and responsibility I had to care for my family."
Mulbah considers himself fortunate to have only lost a cousin during the war and says prayer was instrumental to their survival.
"The most important thing we did was pray. Every morning we would gather the family together and pray," he said. "We lost one person, but the rest of the family was saved."
The Liberian Civil War, which only recently came to a close in 2003, resulted in the formation of a new Liberian Army - The Armed Forces of Liberia; the one in which Mulbah proudly serves today. With the aid and guidance of American Soldiers, Mulbah says his experience in the AFL has been wonderful.
"I've had the opportunity to learn many new things, especially the military discipline. I've also had the opportunity to work with lots and lots of experienced people," he said.
The U.S. State Department is currently leading an effort to rebuild Liberian forces through the Liberia Security Sector Reform. The program provides training and mentoring for soldiers like Mulbah. Through the program, Mulbah has accumulated a long list of influential American Soldiers and Civilians who have assisted him over the years with multiple leadership, organizational and logistical challenges. One, Sgt. 1st Class Ringo Wilson, had the most impact.
"I was having problems with members of my office staff coming in late. I was about to write them up when Wilson gave me some advice," said Mulbah of the U.S. Army Africa senior noncommissioned officer. "He told me, 'you have the power to do what you want to, but I want you to put down the power, put down the rank and uniform and call them in to talk as brothers and sisters. Tell them how important their jobs are, especially when working at a brigade headquarters where everyone is looking at them to get things right.'"
Mulbah said that he took Wilson's advice and realized there was a legitimate problem and that his Soldiers had personal and family obligations that kept them from being at work on time. Mulbah was able to make a slight change in their work hours and hasn't had a problem since.
Wilson was also instrumental in getting Mulbah ready for the unit supply course at the ALU by downloading maps and pointing out where things are located on the installation. Mulbah is enjoying his stay in the U.S. and gaining valuable knowledge to take back to the AFL, but says it is also difficult.
"It is a great experience being here and the university staff has been great, but it is a sacrifice for me because I'm not able to make as much money to help out my family," said Mulbah, who is used to working multiple jobs in Liberia to help pay for his brothers' university expenses and support his eight year-old son, Jeremiah, and fiancee, Cynthia. Mulbah says his long-term goal is to one day make it back to the United States permanently.