WASHINGTON -- Partnerships with other nations are vital to national security, said a veteran who helped build allied relationships in Africa.

Retired Army Maj. Coren Jonathan Allen strongly believes in partnerships based on his extensive travels in South Africa, Uganda, Liberia, Zambia, Senegal, South Sudan, Gabon, Burundi, and Cameroon from 2012 to 2016. He was also in Djibouti in 2008.

Allen served in Africa as part of a theater exercise planning team. Conducting military exercises between the U.S. and host nations, Allen experienced countless interactions with military and community representatives. He has also worked and traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

BENEFITS OF DEPLOYMENT

Many Soldiers embrace interactions with people of other countries, but some do not, Allen said.

If Soldiers are in country long enough, most of them see that despite cultural and experiential differences, humans on different continents have much in common, he said. Soldiers then begin to open up and communicate.

Allen suggested that troops who deploy should take advantage of the tremendous opportunity to learn about the local people. It's not just good for military relationships, he said, it also improves their personal outlook on life and expands their horizons.

CULTURAL EXCHANGES

A good time to get to know others is at the table, he said. The sharing of food and drink dissolves pre-conceived bias and barriers. For instance, in Uganda, they follow the British tradition of drinking tea (and coffee) several times a day, usually accompanied with incredibly delicious fresh fruit.

Host nations are especially eager to show Americans their culture. For instance, in several African nations, Allen said they would participate in cultural events with traditional foods, dance and music. Dances in each country are very different, depending on their tribal heritage, he said.

CONFLICT RESOLUTION

Allen cautioned that lack of communication and understanding can result in misunderstandings and distrust.

For the first half of his Army career, Allen was a UH-1 Huey and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot. He flew combat missions in Iraq from 2006 through 2007.

Partly as a result of his cultural experience in the Army, Allen decided to use his G.I. Bill to get a second master's degree in Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, in Virginia, where he resides.

PERSONAL PARTNERSHIP

Allen met former South African President Nelson Mandela's grandson, Siyabulela Mandela, at George Mason. Allen said Mandela is also passionate about conflict resolution and peace building.

Allen wrote a children's book which deals with recognizing and celebrating diversity and difference at the same time as embracing humanity. Mandela wrote a preface to his book.

Allen and Mandela will be touring the National Capital Region during the months of April and May conducting school programs, corporate diversity events and book signings.