VICENZA, Italy -- Maj. Gen. David R. Hogg, commander, U.S. Army Africa, traveled to Ghana, Togo and Benin to visit with key military leaders and land force commanders Jan. 10-14, during his latest Senior Leader Engagement (SLE) excursion.

Hogg spent the week visiting with key leaders in all three West African nations and toured the peacekeeping training facility in Togo for a first-hand look at the capabilities of their land forces.

"These meetings are important for us to build rapport with the leadership of these nations and to help facilitate interoperability which will, one hopes, build stronger relationships leading to peace and stability," Hogg said.

The SLE program provides an opportunity for USARAF to cultivate relationships and get a common understanding of what these national armies do, and it helps them understand what we do, Hogg added.

Forces in the three West African nations are involved in a variety of activities that range from peacekeeping operations to humanitarian assistance. To aid in these missions and the professional development of their forces, all of the leaders expressed a need for more equipment and more professional education.

"While I can't help by providing equipment," Hogg said, "I can determine what the soldiers need and work with the State Department to provide the necessary funding."

When it comes to professional schools, Hogg said the U.S. is more than willing to provide spaces for capable officers to attend a variety of U.S. military schools.

The benefit is really twofold, Hogg said. It provides their army with a professionally trained officer, and provides the U.S. military the opportunity to build on the relationships with that nation.

Brig. Gen. Dominique Ahouandijinou, Beninese army chief of staff, was anxious to accept Hogg's offer of education for his officers.

"This would be a great opportunity to work together to build a more modern and professional force," he said.

Benin is one of the smallest nations in West Africa and has had limited partnerships to date with the U.S. Hogg said he hopes to expand on the relationship with not only Benin, but Togo and Ghana through exercises and a variety of training classes.

In addition to meeting with military leaders, Hogg toured the Peace Keeping Operations (PKO) training center in Togo. The largest PKO missions in the world are in Africa, and all three nations visited allocate almost one quarter of their soldiers to a variety of missions on the continent. The goal of these centers is to certify soldiers in a variety of United Nations peacekeeping operations tasks.

"It is necessary that our troops are well trained," said the commander of the Togolese PKO training center. "We are involved in many peace keeping operations, and the reason this center is here is so that our troops can act with professionalism."

The goal of the PKO center in Togo is to become a regional center for enlisted soldiers throughout West Africa, he said.

That regional focus is also a priority focus of the USARAF mission.

"Every army in Africa is different and they all have different capabilities," Hogg said. "By bringing them together during exercises and training opportunities it will increase their capabilities and provide security and stability in the region."