U.S. Army Africa personnel traveled to Gaborone, Botswana and Windhoek, Namibia to recommend proposals to help integrate enlisted females in the Botswana and Namibia Defense Forces in a Woman's Integration follow up Sept. 16 -- 20.

Col. Sara V. Simmons, U.S. Army Africa G1 director, said this initiative touched on the objectives from the April visit in Botswana for a woman's integration working group, and the event also served as an initial coordination meeting for a proposed Regional Women's Integration Seminar in Namibia next year.

Simmons, a Johns Island, S.C. native, said it is important for USARAF to continue to invest in this initiative because it is USARAF's mission to build capacity and capability of its African partners.

"This initiative supports Executive Order 13595 signed by President Obama and United Nations Security Resolution 1325 which supports engaging partner countries' national security leadership to incorporate a gender perspective and women, peace and security initiatives in their planning and activities while promoting, supporting and encouraging African partners to integrate women into their defense forces," Simmons said.

Sgt. Maj. Carolina D. Johnson, USARAF equal opportunity sergeant major, said the working groups addressed the initiatives briefed in April, and selected three that are achievable in the near term without culture or budget constraints. While progress is slow, Johnson said she is certain perseverance and strong senior leadership support will ensure success.

"For the countries we visited, it's a huge milestone. Most people are aware of the value of women's integration, however some are resistant to change. Culture is difficult to change," Johnson, a Marianna, Fla. native said.

Simmons also agrees that this event is a milestone in countries across Africa because it goes against the socio-cultural and traditional norms that have existed for centuries. Despite cultural norms, Simmons said both countries are interested in addressing and sharing integration challenges.

"Botswana and Namibia military leaders are well aware of the importance as well as the sensitivities and complexities associated with this initiative hence the reason for requested U.S. Army Africa's assistance and sharing best practices in order to facilitate a seamless female integration platform," Simmons said.

Working groups also included male BDF soldiers, who believed women should be allowed to join as long as they receive the training required at the operational and tactical levels to indoctrinate the existing forces on integration, Simmons said.

"The males who were involved in the Botswana Women's Integration Work Group were in favor of integration and believe if a woman is qualified and possesses the requisite skills, knowledge and ability to perform the duties and responsibilities, she should be provided the opportunity," Simmons said.

Johnson said the support of the male soldiers is a vital part of strengthening and growing the force, which will help build a stronger Africa.

"The diversity and inclusion of females in the Defense Forces maximize and capitalize on different skills, attributes, experiences, and backgrounds that further enhance the Defense Force's capabilities and contribute to an adaptive, culturally astute Force," Johnson said.