Ward challenges U.S. military mentors to be model professionals for Liberian soldiers
March 30, 2010
- ONWARD LIBERTY, is an initiative designed to continue U.S. support to the Liberian government and its efforts to transform its military.
MONROVIA, Liberia - General William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), concluded a daylong visit to Liberia March 24, 2010 by visiting and having lunch with nearly 50 U.S. military servicemembers currently serving on temporary duty in Liberia. The servicemembers, representing a joint team of Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, are serving as mentors and advisors to the Armed Forces of Liberia via a program known as ONWARD LIBERTY.
ONWARD LIBERTY, which began January 1, 2010, is a U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Defense initiative designed to continue the United States' support to the government of Liberia and its ongoing efforts to transform its military. It is a five-year commitment of continued support and partnership, with mentors cycling through on six-month temporary duty assignments and some servicemembers electing to do yearlong assignments.
Starting in 2006, the United States, via the State Department's security sector reform program, began assisting Liberia in its effort to reinstitute its military. A bloody 13-year-long civil war ended in 2003 but many of the perpetrators were members of the 15,000-person military and police force.
When talking about this period in Liberia's recent history, Ward explained to the mentors that the military was seen as "oppressors of the population" and that "people were afraid of the military." He went on to tell how Liberian President Linda Johnson Sirleaf told former U.S. President George W. Bush that the only way to move forward was to start all over again by rebuilding a completely new military.
It was then that Bush determined that the United States would come alongside Liberia as a partner and assist them in the effort to transform and professionalize its military. The new force of 2,000 has only six members of the former military and was built using young, literate, physically fit troops, all of whom are clear of human rights violations.
During remarks at Liberia's Armed Forces Day February 11, with the theme, "Building a Force for Good", Sirleaf said, "In collaboration with our international partners, a solid foundation has thus been laid for a new AFL -- one that will play a key role in furthering our development agenda...while also providing external and territorial protection. I think we all agree that if Liberia is to develop, the AFL cannot be reclusive and remain in the barracks; and that our forces must work alongside other agencies in contributing to our national development objectives."
The government of Liberia assumed full control of the growth, maintenance and sustenance of its army on January 1, 2010. With Liberian soldiers conducting training themselves now, U.S. military mentors are continuing the partnership between the two nations and serving as role models for the Armed Forces of Liberia, demonstrating for them how professional military members conduct themselves and providing guidance and advice when needed.
Ward stated his charge to the mentors: "Your job, what I'm asking every one of you to do [is]... be that type of an American, a citizen [who] wears the cloth of its nation, who causes others to say, 'Yeah, that's what I want to be.' And when you instill that into them, this business of training maintenance and training marksmanship, that stuff just happens, because they have committed to themselves in here [taps chest indicating heart] that they are going to do it the right way, the appropriate way, responsibly and professionally. But it comes first with being committed to that. And they get that one way and that is watching what right looks like."
When talking with the joint audience, Ward also emphasized that this is a U.S. government effort and not specific to any one military service or agency. He told the group that as the first cycle of mentors for ONWARD LIBERTY, their work is instrumental in setting a strong foundation and example for those who will follow them.
"As you do this work, as you do this mission, on behalf of the United States of America...know that this is what we will take to build on the continuing effort down the road," Ward told the group. "Doing it in such a way that what's seen is a marriage, a partnership, a coherent effort - Department of Defense, Department of State, and even some cases USAID. ... Because when it's all said and done, it's about the United States of America helping here in this country."
Touching on the popular sayings that actions speak louder than words and a picture is worth a thousand words, Ward highlighted that mentoring can simply be setting an example in daily work that gives an example of a professional servicemember to the soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia.
"The biggest deal of all is what folks see, what folks understand from you, and what you do each and every day," Ward said. "It's not the fact that you do your job...it's the fact of how you do it. ... The difference is made in respect to how you are perceived in manner of performance."
In addition to spending time with the ONWARD LIBERTY mentors, Ward met with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Minister of Defense Brownie J. Samukai and the commanding officer in charge of the Armed Forces of Liberia, Major General S.A. Abdurrahman, who is a Nigerian officer responsible for the AFL under an international agreement. Ward left Liberia to travel to Ghana where he is giving the closing speech at U.S. Africa Command's Inspector General Conference being held at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center.