By Spc. Jason NolteNovember 11, 2009
KITGUM, Uganda - Senior enlisted advisors from the United States and five partner nations in Exercise Natural Fire 10 took advantage of the opportunity to sit down and talk with Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Ripka, senior enlisted advisor for U.S. Africa Command, during his visit to Task Force Kitgum.
The representatives from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United States, enjoyed the opportunity to sit and talk to each other about their families and careers, continuing the important partnership building that has been going on throughout the exercise.
The group included Warrant Officer Class 2 Angelina Mahawa of Tanzania, Warrant Officer Class 1 Charles Okello and Warrant Officer Class 1 Sam Bakaise of Uganda; Warrant Officer Class 2 David Kalimba of Rwanda; Warrant Officer Class 2 Ibraham Robow of Kenya; Warrant Officer Class 2 Serpe Nijungeko of Burundi; and and Command Sgt. Major Lance Rygmyr of the United States.
Kalimba was pleased with the exchange of ideas, "We had a very good meeting, and we enjoyed it in fact."
Robow agreed, "We have shared ideas about how to lead the soldiers and how to cooperate."
While he was in the Kitgum area, Ripka toured many of the sites where the Combined Joint Task Force Kitgum forces are working. He visited Kitgum High School where Navy Seabees are working side-by-side with engineering and construction soldiers from the East African partner nations to refurbish a damaged building.
The next stop was the Mucwini clinic, where exercise medical personnel were treating medical and dental conditions. There Ripka met the chief, or mayor, of the Mucwini area. He also stopped by Mucwini primary school, another engineering project, where he tried his hand at applying concrete with a trowel flick. "I got a big no go," he said.
"I think I've been most impressed by how our African nation partners and our U.S. forces are coming together and sharing ideas and thoughts, sharing training techniques," said Ripka.
After meeting with the other senior enlisted advisors, Ripka addressed the U.S. forces comprising Task Force Kitgum. He emphasized that this is not a United States exercise.
Uganda is hosting this exercise, and the United States is a small part of it, Ripka reminded the troops, "We are here at their request."
Ripka also took time to address culture and military differences that he, during his frequent trips to Africa, identified as sticking points in understanding. As the sun set on the day, bathing the field in golden light, he addressed the issues and concerns that are critical for AFRICOM and how this exercise can be a step forward.
"Our message has to be we want to learn from our partner nations," Ripka told the assembled troops, "I saw some great training out here today. There was some training that our partner nations were in the lead, and there was some training that our U.S. forces were in the lead."
Okello had a request for his fellow senior enlisted advisors as they return to their countries, "Advise the soldiers not always to look at becoming an officer. You can become a sergeant major and hold the position for betterment of your country."