MONROVIA, Liberia—U.S. Army civil affairs Soldiers assigned to the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion and 352nd Civil Affairs Command, U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF), conducted a civil military coordination and medical capabilities assessment with the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), April 24-28, 2023.
Two teams composed of three Soldiers apiece made the trip to Monrovia, one team flying in from Niger, while the other flew from Djibouti.
“Our primary goal here was to assess the CIMIC [civil military coordination] and medical capabilities within the AFL,” said U.S. Army Capt. Quang Nguyenlu, the CIMIC-focused team leader assigned to 450th Civil Affairs Battalion, SETAF-AF. “After one week of working together with [U.S. Army] Lt. Col. Glenna Bergland’s civil affairs medical team, we both have a much better perspective regarding what the AFL needs from us.”
Bilateral civil affairs exchanges build military and civilian readiness for future joint humanitarian assistance and crisis response operations.
“We visited the AFL’s 14 Military Hospital, which has been up and running for a couple years, as well as four of their satellite clinics,” said Bergland, the medical-focused functional specialty team leader and public health nurse assigned to 352nd Civil Affairs Command, SETAF-AF.
Bergland’s assessment came up with multiple areas deserving attention, including medical logistics, planning and supply management.
“My team also noted several encouraging developments, including the AFL’s initiative to revamp their medical command structure,” she added.
Although the engagement was civil affairs oriented, the teams met with AFL leadership and representatives from most staff sections. AFL Soldiers briefed them on current capabilities and initiatives, most of which have been modeled after U.S. Army doctrine.
“14 Military Hospital took information from Michigan National Guard medical exchanges and recently established a yearly health screening for all AFL Soldiers,” said AFL’s 1st Lt. George Bainda, the hospital’s acting medical commander. “Mobile medical teams run patients through a checklist which covers items from blood pressure to blood sugar levels. Those who test outside of normal levels receive follow-on care and medication if necessary.”
This program is especially critical since Liberia sends AFL Soldiers on peacekeeping missions to other African nations. Most notably, they currently contribute to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
Based on this week’s civil affairs assessment, Nguyenlu and Bergland agreed that further engagements are warranted.
Along with ongoing peacekeeping missions, Liberian civil authorities frequently call upon the AFL to provide additional resources. Projects ranging from road construction, security and medical outreach are some of the most common requests.
These are all areas which demand the skills of a CIMIC-trained military.
“Currently we conduct confidence patrols throughout communities alongside the Liberian National Police,” said AFL 1st Lt. Ishvi Roberts, a training officer within the operations section. “We also partner with multiple officials to provide security during elections, especially when it comes to securing ballot boxes, voting stations and protecting authorized vehicles along routes to and from those locations.”
The AFL has already been asked to provide security support for this year's presidential election in October.
Nguyenlu shared that the AFL does not currently have a formalized CIMIC program, even though they frequently conduct CIMIC-related activities.
“My civil affairs Soldiers will be back in May to assist with standing up their CIMIC team,” shared Nguyenlu.
The engagement will utilize the “train the trainer” philosophy where a select group of AFL Soldiers will take what they’ve learned and pass along that knowledge to others.
Another area noted during the assessment was the need to get AFL’s message out to the Liberian people.
“The AFL does so many great things, including an Armed Forces Day medical outreach as well as other community enrichment projects,” said AFL Dr. (Maj.) Zoe Parwon, chief medical officer at 14 Military Hospital. “But we could do a better job promoting those projects and covering events through public affairs.”
AFL Maj. Othello Nmah, acting training commander at Camp Ware, shared Parwon’s sentiment, indicating that additional public affairs training should be incorporated into the civil affairs engagements.
“T.V., social media and newspapers are sufficient in populated areas such as Monrovia,” said Nmah. “However, rural areas would be better reached by radio.”
After the weeklong assessment, SETAF-AF civil affairs Soldiers presented their findings to AFL leadership and officials at the U.S. Embassy Monrovia. Everyone agreed that future engagements are needed, but must be a team effort.
Previous engagements have been conducted by the Michigan National Guard through their State Partnership Program with Liberia, which was initiated in 2009. Over the last three years, medical teams assisted with the establishment of 14 Military Hospital, conducting best practice exchanges and laying the groundwork for multiple military programs.
“Between SETAF-AF, the U.S. Embassy and the Michigan National Guard, our common goal is to build AFL’s capacity and strengthen their ties with civilians through ongoing engagements, preferably over a three to five year plan,” said Nguyenlu.
Bergland added, “Overall we were very encouraged by AFL’s response; it’s obvious they care deeply for the Liberian people.”