PRETORIA, South Africa - Senior warrant officers of the South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF) hosted a delegation of the U.S. military counterparts in Pretoria March 16-20, 2009.

The delegation's representatives included Command Sergeant Major Mark Ripka of U.S. Africa Command (U.S. AFRICOM), and Command Sergeant Major Robert Van Pelt, who is the State Command Sergeant Major for the New York Army National Guard. They were accompanied by Sergeants First Class Steven Ryan and Joey Mitchell from the U.S. Embassy-Pretoria. The New York National Guard is partnered with the SANDF under the State Partnership Program.

The purpose of the visit was to discuss SANDF warrant officer and non-commissioned officer (NCO) development, build relationships, and to establish a permanent warrant officer/ NCO Cooperation sub-working group to the SANDF -- US Military Relations Working Group in preparation for the July 2009 Defense Committee discussions.

In the U.S. military, senior enlisted personnel and sergeants major hold positions comparable to those of warrant officers in many African militaries. In the U.S. military, a command sergeant major is the commanding officer's senior adviser on matters affecting the enlisted force.

The SANDF visit began March 16 with an office call and discussions with the Master Chief Warrant Officer F.J.S. Scheepers, SANDF. The delegation also met the SANDF accompanying officer for the week, Chief Warrant Officer Leon Halgreen of the Command and Management Information Systems Division. Scheepers provided an overview on the history and the challenges of the SANDF since the creation of the post-apartheid military force in 1994.

After the initial discussion with Scheepers, the delegation proceeded to the Army College where the Senior Chief Warrant Officer Kgaladi, South African Army, met and hosted the delegation for the remainder of the day. The delegation received briefings from Chief Warrant Officer Van Onselen of the South African Army Headquarters Staff Force Preparation, and from the South African Army Formation chief warrant officers. They discussed training in general, followed by warrant officer/ non-commissioned officer development.

On March 17 the delegation was hosted for briefings and discussions by Senior Chief Warrant Officer L. Dan Tshabala, South African Air Force (SAAF). The delegation also met with the Chief of the South African Air Force, Lieutenant General Gagiano. The briefings covered the SAAF's technical training and warrant officer/ non-commissioned officer leadership development. The SAAF College presented a detailed briefing on its organization, capabilities, and current and future pathway for warrant officers and non-commissioned officers. The U.S. delegation agreed to explore the possibilities of future student and instructor exchanges between the United States and South Africa National Defense Force.

Next the delegation traveled to the Joint Operations Division. Senior Chief Warrant Officer Gogo hosted the delegation for a series of detailed briefings of the Joint Operations Division's roles and functions and the Special Force Brigade's mission, roles, and functions.

Senior Chief Warrant Officer M.M.T. Sebone, South African Military Health Services (SAMHS), hosted the delegation on March 18 for a SAMHS organizational briefing, a visit to 7th Medical Group, and a visit to SAMHS Training Formation. The 7th Medical Group provided a mission briefing and demonstrated the Chemical Biological Radiological Defensive Protection capability. During the visit to the Training Formation they observed military health training using a variety of computer-based and non-computer-based simulators and simulations.

On the afternoon of March 18 the delegation was hosted by the Master at Arms Mark Hyde, South African Navy. Hyde and the warrant officers on the headquarters South African Navy staff provided a briefing with accompanying discussions focused on petty officer, chief petty officer, and warrant officer professional development. Vice Admiral J. Mudimu, chief of the South African Navy, also spoke to the assembled warrant officers about the success of the 3d Africa Sea Power Symposium hosted in South Africa and the importance of regional maritime cooperation and the relationship with the United States.

The delegation proceeded to the Warrant Officer's Academy (WOA) on March 19 and was hosted by the Master Chief Warrant Officer (MCWO) of the South African National Defense Force and Senior Chief Warrant Officer, D.J.W. Cloete, Warrant Officer Academy, for a full day of briefings and discussions. Joining the group for briefings was Warrant Officer 1 (Retired) Moorcroft, former South Africa Army Sergeant Major of the Army, who had recently been appointed by the South African National Defense Force to monitor and assist with Retiree Affairs. The master chief warrant officer began the day's discussions by explaining the history of warrant officers and the new warrant officer ranks in the South African Defense Force.

After the MCWO's briefing, the U.S. delegation provided a short white-board discussion on the U.S. national security organization to include US Africa Command; the discussion also covered U.S. warrant officer/non-commissioned officer education and development. The next series of briefings were presented by the Warrant Officer's Academy's staff and covered the Joint Warrant Officer Program. The WOA is currently administering their second intake of Joint Warrant Officer Program. Members of the U.S. delegation said they were quite impressed with the year-long, combination resident with short-duration distance-learning periods, operational and military/political strategic level focused course. The U.S. delegation agreed to explore the possibilities of instructor/facilitator and learner exchanges at the Warrant Officer's Academy.

March 20 was the inauguration of the WO/NCO Cooperation Group as another sub-group to the Military Relations Working Group of the Defense Committee. The Master Chief Warrant Officer, South African National Defense Force and the Command Sergeant Major, U.S. Africa Command participated.

The week-long visits and discussions formed the basis of the warrant officer/non-commissioned officer Cooperation Group's plenary out-brief to the full Military Relations Working Group (MRWG). Most important from the presentation was the recommendation that the WO/NCO Cooperation Group become a permanent sub-group to the MRWG. The recommendation was approved by the MRWG Co-Chairmen.

In conclusion, the week-long warrant officer-to-warrant officer level SANDF-U.S. military engagement and discussions created an understanding which enhanced respect, trust, and confidence. Moreover, the success of the engagement is also reflected in the addition of a permanent WO/NCO Cooperation Sub-Working Group to the Military Relations Working Group to the Defense Committee.