VICENZA, Italy (Aug. 20, 2013) -- With the help of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, U.S. Army Africa, or USARAF, partnered with United States Army Cadet Command to create a mutually beneficial opportunity to embed cadets within an Army Service Component Command to advance USARAF Theater Security Cooperation efforts, and help cadets achieve Cadet Command goals of cultural understanding and leadership development.

This Cadet Overseas Training Mission, or COTM, which is the first of its kind for USARAF, embedded three Reserve Officers' Training Corps cadets with USARAF country desk officers to accompany the cadets to Lesotho, Zambia, Djibouti, Uganda and Italy.

Gianni Iurassich, East Africa regional desk officer, said the COTM allowed the cadets to engage with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa personnel, who help achieve security cooperation goals in Africa.

"The COTM is important for our ROTC cadets because it provides them an extraordinary opportunity to travel overseas to observe how USARAF engages with our partner nations in Africa," said Iurassich, a Kettering, Ohio native. "The cadets got the feel of a forward operating base as well as some mentoring from Army officers in various fields. This turned out to be a positive experience for the cadets because they got a rare opportunity to get direct input from personnel involved in their specific fields."

To help prepare for this mission, the cadets were given briefings on USARAF's mission, the role of USARAF's Security Cooperation Division and information on countries they would be visiting in Africa. During their trip, the cadets met with key leaders within U.S. embassies and senior leaders in partner nation militaries.

"It was important for me to ensure the cadets got the opportunity to not only hear, but to physically see how the U.S. Army operates with other services in a joint environment," Iurassich said. "This event also allowed the cadets to see how U.S. Army personnel trained a Ugandan military police unit as it prepared for deployment as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia."

Maj. Christopher D. Sturm, International Army Programs liaison to USARAF, said the skills, experiences and cultural awareness the cadets learned on this mission will provide an important baseline for their future positions.

"These engagements further the development of both the next generation of Army leadership and the future of USARAF and its mission in Africa and Italy," said Sturm, an Edison, N.J. native. "Ultimately, our Army is stronger in the near and far term because of engagements like this."

Cadet Jacquelyn L. Kessler, from the University of California at Berkley, said she gained cultural awareness while learning USARAF's mission requirements in Africa, which she believes will help her become a better leader in the future.

"The Army is transitioning to a mode where they want to create Soldiers and leaders who can adapt and assimilate into other cultures and are sensitive to the differences between our nations," said Kessler, a native of Moreno Valley, Calif. "These events give us a taste of what is to be expected in our future careers: friendly engagement with our partner nations working toward a common goal."

Cadet Maria D. Micca, from Bloomsburg University, said she gained a basic understanding of Soldiers from other countries and how other militaries operate.

"I truly thought all countries operated similarly to the United States, especially foreign militaries," said Micca, a Shickshinny, Pa. native. "After this trip I realized that different cultures have different focuses unique to that specific society. I will be sure to keep up with everything occurring in this region, as well as worldwide, so that I can better understand my role as a future leader in the U.S. Army."

Sturm said he hopes this program continues to grow in the future as his interaction with the cadets was a highlight in his career.

"I got to work and train intimately with these cadets over the last five weeks and their level of intelligence and maturity makes me excited and extremely confident in the future of our Army," Sturm said.