KASENYI TRAINING FACILITY, Uganda - Soldiers of the Ugandan People's Defense Force practiced their ability to handle non-combat operations during two weeks of Civil-Military Operations (CMO) training at Kasenyi Training Facility in Entebbe, Uganda, May 10-21.

The CMO training is a new block of instruction in an ongoing 16-week long full spectrum operations course of informative discussions and best practices. The CMO block covered topics ranging from human rights and mediations to working with international governmental and non-governmental organizations.

"Full spectrum operations covers a wide range of military duties," said U.S. Navy Lt. CDR. Jason Foster, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa Country Plans Officer for Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and Rwanda. "So naturally we wanted a CMO component."

Other blocks of the full spectrum course include sections on health issues, basic soldier skills, squad operations and counter-terrorism. The 149 participating UPDF soldiers are grouped into five platoons of roughly thirty soldiers each.

Working Together

The current development course, which is the eighth so far, and the second to be directed by Bravo Company, 1st battalion, 65th Infantry Regiment, Puerto Rico National Guard, is the first to be supplemented by members of a Civil Affairs team. The two week CMO portion is being led by U.S. Army Civil Affairs Battalion (Tactical), D Company/411th personnel.

"They are the experts, so it makes sense to have them leading this portion of the course," said 1/65th mission commander, U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Heriberto Crespo.

U.S. Major Jesus Rodriguez, the officer in charge of the CMO course and Company commander of D Company/411th, was happy to lend his team's expertise to the 1/65th and UPDF.

"Sgt. Crespo talked to us about having a civil affairs team coming down and helping. We already had an idea to conduct Civil-Military Operations training with the UPDF and this was an excellent opportunity to put this together."

Rodriguez stressed the combined nature of the course. The joint effort, he said, pulled together experts to put this training together, people from strategic communications, civil affairs, the Social-Cultural Resource Advisory Team, and the 1/65th.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Eric Roth, a Team leader from D Company/411th, mentioned the military to military collaborative nature of the training. "We've learned a lot from the UPDF, just as much as we've shared."

In fact, several UPDF soldiers from prior courses occasionally lead discussion sessions, in addition to assisting their fellow Ugandans with the material.

"We can't help with this portion though," UPDF Lance Corp. David Esoru, of 2nd platoon said of the current training. "We've attended all the briefs except the two weeks of CMO material, because it's new."

One section of the new CMO training was devoted to briefs on working with IGOs and NGOs.

Representatives from several different organizations, including United Nations Children's Fund and the International Rescue Committee Uganda Program, came and spoke with the soldiers, engaging them with discussions on human rights, child protection, and how to interact with civil communities.

"We need to narrow the social gap between community and military members," emphasized Vedasto Nsanzugwanko, a child protection specialist and speaker from UNICEF.

Pvt. Christopher Okumo, another UPDF discussion leader, said he enjoyed the new material. "It is helping me, showing me how I can interact with civilians and how I should handle community issues in cooperation with NGOs."

Exercise, Exercise

Two exercises were chosen as culminating events of the CMO training. The first was the setup and operation of a Civil-Military Operations Center and the second was an actual civil affairs mission with local schools.

CMOCs are used as action centers during emergency situations that call for coordinated responses between military and civilian agencies reacting to those affected by a crisis. A mudslide was chosen as the CMOC scenario, a frequent hazard in Uganda that was on the front page of The New Vision, a local newspaper, two days in a row during the training.

Having received the scenario, the UPDF soldiers used their training and worked the task at hand.

Staff Sgt. Amanda Boersma, a CA team leader of 5th platoon, watched as the UPDF soldiers worked out how to engage the events on their own. "I gave them the opportunity to set up their CMOC; with little guidance they were in full operation. However, throughout the day I am here to make suggestions on how to improve."

UPDF Pvt. Joel Bugingo, one of the soldiers in 5th platoon, related the training they received to the scenario. "Act fast, assess the situation, and execute the mission."

He also noted that the exercise was similar to their Civil-Military Coordination Center, a civil engagement tool used by the Ugandan forces, especially in the north.

"I would use this training in the future, to help me through a real event," he said. "In a real-life scenario, it's a bit more difficult to contain [your emotions]; the pressure would be a little too much. The main CMOC board that we used in the scenario would help. You can have a plan, and with a good board and good board coordination, with proper delegation of duties, you can beat any situation."

Bugingo expressed the growth he experienced while working alongside U.S. military and civilian personnel. "This training helped a lot to develop my military skills and how to apply them," he said. "It gave me a different look at things."

UPDF Pvt. Vincent Mawanda, the leader during 5th platoon's CMOC scenario, echoed Bugingo's statements. "One person can't do it all."

The training culminated in a humanitarian assistance mission to five local schools in the first of its kind real-world CMO training exercise held in Uganda.

UPDF soldiers went out to five different local schools on two occasions as their capstone exercise for the CMO training. The local schools were a mix of public and private schools, Muslim and Christian faiths.

The first day, the teams went out and performed a school assessment, meeting with school leaders and annotating the needs of each school as they were presented. The assessments were shared with each platoon and decisions about how to aid each school were discussed.

The decision was made to donate textbooks to each school after hearing reports from each school, where the ratio of students to textbooks was as high as 40 to 1.

At the Nkumba Quran Primary School, school and community leaders commemorated the humanitarian actions of the UPDF soldiers. "People used to be scared when they saw this [UPDF] uniform," said Sewagude, a member of the school's management council. "And today they are delivering books to our school."

Abbey Sebowa, the local elected council chairman of the Baitay area also celebrated the donations. "I am really extremely excited. Soldiers who were once feared can come to the public. I thank the UPDF for being 'pro-people' and for thinking of the community."

Speaking to the school leaders, UPDF Lt. Logwee Dominic addressed the achievements made during the CMO training. "They [the U.S. team] have seen the potential in us, but not the capacity. These last two weeks have brought out that potential."

A ceremony marking the completion of the full 16-week course will be held, June 16.

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