(April 27, 2012) -- As part of the ongoing U.S. Department of State Africa Contingency Operations Training & Assistance (ACOTA) program, three U.S. Army Africa (USARAF) Soldiers are mentoring members of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) on basic soldiering skills in preparation for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISON).

USARAF Military Mentors 1st Lt. Salvatore Buzzurro, Sgt. 1st Class Grady Hyatt, and Sgt. Maj. Gavin McIlvenna assisted the Department of State as they trained RSLAF soldiers in preparation for deployment.

"The AMISON mission is a shift from peacekeeping operation to a more kinetic-oriented operation, and these changes require a different approach to training and preparation," Buzzurro said. "Our mentoring team brings combat experience from both Iraq and Afghanistan which combined with the instruction of the ACOTA program enhances the capabilities of the unit to accomplish its mission."

ACOTA is a State Department, Bureau of African Affairs Program that originated in 1997 to enhance the capacities and capabilities of its African Partner Countries, regional institutions, and the continent's peacekeeping resources as a whole so they can plan for, train, deploy, and sustain sufficient quantities of professionally competent peacekeepers to meet conflict transformation requirements with minimal non-African assistance.

"ACOTA is a train-the-trainer program, first and foremost; therefore, military mentors monitor the classes given by the RSLAF cadre and then advise them on ways to enhance their classes, teaching techniques, and practical application piece," Buzzurro said.

The job of a military mentor is to embed themselves with a counterpart and give them advice on how to perform their jobs, offer additional techniques, tactics and procedures that will benefit the deploying unit while performing their mission.

"The benefit to USARAF, U.S. Africa Command, and the U.S. Army as a whole is to provide African Armies and local populace the opportunity to see U.S. Soldiers' professionalism, dedication, and overall goodwill," Hyatt said. "Countries like Sierra Leone, which is 70 percent Muslim, only see and hear what is in the news, and that sometimes paints the wrong picture for them.

"I had a Muslim cadre participating in the ACOTA program who said what they perceived of the U.S. and its Soldiers was not good, but having trained with us, his attitude has changed and he now embraces what we are doing around the world," Hyatt said.

Hyatt works with Buzzurro on these missions so it works perfectly for their African counterparts to see the working relationship between an officer and a noncommissioned officer.

"One of the biggest benefits of having mentors here is the significance of the noncommissioned officer, and how best to utilize an NCO," Hyatt said. "African Armies have NCO ranks, yet most are at the Private rank and are not included in training, planning or decision making. For them to see a uniformed, senior NCO making decisions as well as being a part of the planning and training process is vital for their understanding of the role of the NCO," Hyatt said.

To this point in the training process, RSLAF soldiers have been split in different groups depending on areas of responsibilities.

"RSLAF soldiers received training on subjects such as combat life saving, machine guns, battle staff and mortars. At the conclusion of this training the battalion will reunite and continue its preparation for deployment as a whole organization," Buzzurro said.