U.S. Army Personnel Assist Ugandan Military
During the first week of September, Dr. Marva Dixon, Vicenza Army Community Services (ACS) Director; Sergeant Major Aaron Miller, U.S. Army Africa (USARAF) G-3 Sergeant Major; and Major Raymond Jablonka from the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU), European Regional Medical Command (ERMC), linked up to speak to a group from the Uganda Peoples' Defense Force (UPDF) about the various ways their organizations support U.S. soldiers and their families with deployment, redeployment, and Wounded Warrior issues. "This could make an important impact on Uganda's capability to better support its soldiers, their families, and wounded members returning from battling Al-Shabbab in Somalia and the Lord's Resistance Army," said Gianni Iurassich, USARAF's East Africa Regional Desk Officer.
Iurassich said that when UPDF Land Forces Commander General Katumba Wamala visited HQ USARAF in October 2011, he was very interested in the ACS and Wounded Warrior Programs. He requested USARAF send a team down to Uganda to explain how the U.S. Army supports its soldiers, their families, and Wounded Warriors.
"His intent was to showcase how the U.S. Army takes care of its personnel with the hope that the UPDF could learn and apply some aspects of the U.S. Army programs," Iurassich said.
The USARAF Security Cooperation Directorate, along with Daniel Sacks from USARAF Personnel, helped organize the event. Upon arrival to Uganda, the U.S. Embassy Kampala Office of Security Cooperation assisted the military-to-military (M2M) contact team by getting them safely to the city of Jinja, located about 80 kilometers east from the capital city of Kampala.
While at a Jinja military facility, the team was met by a classroom filled with 33 UPDF members. These UPDF soldiers and officers mainly worked in finance and supply, but the group also included medical nurses and psychologists. After initial introductions were made, the U.S. team showed a USARAF-produced video that highlighted the roles and missions of ACS employees. Along with the ACS programs, Dixon spoke briefly about the Army Substance Abuse Program and highlighted the benefits of the program.
During the second day of the seminar, the participants heard about Miller's deployment experiences and the training he received before and after his deployments. He explained the deployment cycle, including Train-UP/Preparation, Mobilization, Deployment, Employment, Re-Deployment, Post-Deployment, and Re-constitution Stages.
On day three, Jablonka spoke about the creation of the Wounded Warrior Program. He emphasized the importance of building resiliency skills, providing alternative career and professional skills to soldiers, reintegrating into active service following an injury, and facilitating acceptance and integration into civilian life.
During both days, the two presenters tied their concepts together with the role of ACS. Finally, on the last day of the seminar, UPDF soldiers and officers were organized into groups to use what they had learned to draft a plan of what key services they felt would be beneficial to the UDPF.
"This was a classic example of allowing Africans solve African issues themselves," Iurassich said. After the draft plan was developed, the UPDF members' next goal was to present it to their senior leadership and to Wamala. If successful, the concepts could reach the Ugandan Parliament. UPDF might be able to get funding to start building a better support/care structure for its troops and wounded personnel.
"There were many things they simply don't have the money for making things happen, so this will be the beginning phase for them," Dixon said. "We gave them the ideas to develop their own program. They currently have a program in place, but wanted to hear our experiences to make it better organized and supportable."
One challenge that came up when discussing deployment planning and post-injury care was that some Ugandan soldiers have more than one wife. Extra planning and paperwork would be necessary for a soldier deploying to ensure better care and well-being for his family members.
"The UPDF has been fighting for more than 26 years and has some programs in place, but it isn't getting the care to all the persons needing it," Miller said.
Another difference noted between U.S. and Ugandan militaries: Most UPDF soldiers receive less than a week's notice before deploying. They have to rely on public transportation to get to their deployment base, and when they return, they have to rely on friends for transportion or hitch a ride to their hometown.
"This was a great opportunity to get the USARAF name out there and let (the attendees) know that the U.S. Army is committed to building partner capacity on the African continent," Miller said.
At the end of the class, UPDF soldiers were delighted to receive certificates of participation from their American colleagues. Dixon later received an e-mail from a participant, thanking her for "an eye-opener on the plight of our army and its families."
"The whole experience was amazing, and I'm glad we could make a difference in a different country," Dixon said.
This M2M event highlighted the positive aspects that a truly professional team effort provides.
"With AFRICOM providing the funding, the OSC in Kampala providing liaison and security services, to the involvement of three different specialists from the Vicenza Garrison, HQ USARAF, and ERMC WTU in Germany - a great M2M event resulted which assisted a friend and ally apply lessons learned to improve its capability to support its own troops," Iurassich said.