VICENZA, Italy – Maj. Gen. Lapthe C. Flora, who has served for nearly two years as the U.S. Army Africa deputy commanding general, as well as the Virginia Army National Guard assistant adjutant general – Army land component commander, assumed command of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa during a ceremony at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, June 8.
“I look forward to leading you and those who will succeed you, and I am excited to see what the future holds,” Flora said during his remarks.
As the USARAF deputy commanding general, Flora traveled frequently to the African continent, representing USARAF in many of the 53 countries in the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility. He provided senior leadership at a number of events attended and co-directed by USARAF’s international partners, including Accord and medical readiness exercises in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Senegal, and at African Land Forces summits in Botswana and Ethiopia.
As he looks forward to the next chapter in his Army story, Flora agreed to participate in a question and answer session reflecting on his role as USARAF deputy commanding general.
Q: What were your duties as deputy commanding general, and how did they evolve during your time with USARAF?
The role of deputy commanding general is to support the needs of the commanding general and the mission of the U.S. Army Africa. I had the distinct pleasure of being able to directly interface with our African partners’ leaders to advance common goals. Evolution of the role was directly tied to my ability to add more value as time went on, and as I better understood the unique needs of our African partners.
Q: What do you think made you the right person to be the deputy commanding general during the past two years?
The beauty of being a National Guardsman is the combination of our military and civilian experience that we bring to the table. Also, the opportunity to work closely with our African partners fits well with my personality. I enjoy helping other countries improve their capabilities and interoperability with the United States.
Q: What impact do you feel National Guard Soldiers have on the command and its objectives in Africa? What was your role in that?
Reserve Component Soldiers are an integral part of U.S. Army Africa’s success. The Army Total Force concept is exemplified by Guard and Reserve Soldiers working side by side as part of exercises on the continent, as well as on the staff in the headquarters. Fusing goals of the National Guard State Partnership Program along with African countries’ interests and U.S. Army Africa priorities also brings immense value to all parties. The rubber really meets the road with our Soldiers, however, my role in helping U.S. Army Africa achieve its objectives lies in my focus on continued and improved integration of National Guard state and federal level leadership and ensuring seamless integration with the command’s efforts.
Q: What was the most rewarding/fulfilling aspect of your assignment at USARAF?
Participating in the planning of and then cohosting the Accord series exercises have been particularly rewarding duties during my time with U.S. Army Africa. I was not only able to work closely with the dedicated men and women of USARAF who spend months — years — even, planning these events, but I was also able to build lasting cooperative relationships with African partner nation land forces, defense ministry and medical leaders; allied partner leaders; and leaders from other U.S. agencies stationed on the continent.
As a leader, it was fulfilling to observe that at the start of each exercise, we all worked as individuals or divided ourselves into individual countries, but throughout the training, we came together, overcoming language barriers and cultural differences to achieve a shared objective. By the end of each exercise, we were a united team, both working and socializing as one multinational group. I left those events knowing that lasting partnerships had been formed, and those partnerships will contribute to success in future missions.
These events were also personally rewarding for me because I have witnessed the tragedy of war firsthand. Before I became a United States citizen, I was a Vietnamese refugee. In some countries on the continent, I see parallels with Vietnam’s past, and I was passionate about supporting exercises that may ensure that what happened in my birth country does not happen in Africa.
U.N. peacekeeping remains one of the most effective tools available to the international community to respond to the challenges of global peace and security. It is critical that those initiatives foster strong partnerships, uphold the rule of law, and continue to support the fight against violent extremism on the continent. I am forever grateful to the American Soldiers who sacrificed to defend my childhood home, and I am humbled to help them train to continue peacekeeping efforts in Africa.
Q: Is there a USARAF experience that was particularly memorable that you would like to share?
I served as the exercise director for the Accord series. The Angola visit/trip to CONUS and attending regional leader seminars in Botswana, Ethiopia and Rwanda were memorable. Furthermore, the engagement in Angola, and attending African Land Forces Summits in Botswana and Ethiopia were memorable experiences as well.
Q: Do you have any advice you would like to leave with the USARAF team (Soldiers and civilians)?
Continue to lead by example, and continue to build relationships with our African partners.