PORT LOUIS, Mauritius - After a full week of briefings and discussions, the first planning conference for communications exercise Africa Endeavor 2011 came to a close on November 11, 2010 in Port Louis, Mauritius.

In cooperation with the government of Mauritius, delegations from 35 African nations came together to plan for the U.S. Africa Command- sponsored exercise Africa Endeavor 2011, the largest military communications interoperability and information sharing exercise in Africa.

The week kicked off with opening comments from African and U.S. senior leaders addressing more than 140 participants from 35 different nations.

U.S. Ambassador to Mauritius Mary Jo Wills talked about how important Africa is to the United States and to the world. In her remarks, she referenced President Obama's remarks in Ghana last year when he talked about the United States' commitment to Africa, emphasizing that Africa's prosperity, health and security, and strength of democracy is interconnected with that of the global community.

Brig. Gen. Robert Ferrell, U.S. Africa Command's director of C4 Systems, told the delegates that their planning efforts are a step forward towards achieving a common goal by incorporating a regional-based application to the proposed exercise scenario.

One of the delegates, Cpt. Farell Folly of Benin, who was part of the AE Exercises for the past three years, was recognized as a central figure during the planning conference, serving as an interface between the AE11's Executive Management Board (EMB) and the working groups. The EMB is made up of senior military delegates from participating countries, and the regional working groups are comprised of multinational military communications professionals. Folly's role for the exercise was to help participants in the working groups achieve the training objectives established by the EMB.

He talked about how far the AE exercise has come over the past few years. "In 2010, we worked to see if the equipment each unit had could even talk to each other. Now, in 2011, instead of focusing on testing equipment, we are focusing on developing procedures on how to communicate at all levels...platoon, brigade and company, and between the different regions in Africa," said Folly.

Lt. Col. David Schilling of U.S. Army Africa was the U.S. delegation lead for this planning conference. He explained that there are four levels to achieving full interoperability. The base level or bottom of the pyramid is the human level--or the ability to establish relationships and identify a common objective. The next level up is the technical level, which according to Shilling, was the level of the exercise in 2010. "It is the level where we deal primarily with getting the hardware to getting the hardware to talk to each other," he said.

The third level from the bottom is the procedural level. This is the part that is being worked for AE11 in preparation for the final operational level. "Bottom line...in the procedural level, we are working to make sure that what we say and mean is the same thing that others are saying and meaning...and is interpreted and understood that way," said Schilling.

The purpose of Africa Endeavor is to build the capacity of African nations to exchange information through compatible communication networks.

"These networks will not only facilitate communication on the continent but form the basis for collaborative links with the United States, African Union and other international partners," said Ambassador Wills.

Ferrell explained that the AE exercise is tied to real world requirements and how working together across borders will help mitigate the aftermath of natural disasters and other perils. "...because disasters and diseases do not stop at national borders, our communication efforts must therefore follow the same model if we are to be effective."

The initial planning conference for AE11 concluded on November 11. Two additional conferences will be held in early 2011 in preparation for the actual exercise that will take place in Bamako, Mali in late June.