Michigan National Guard, SETAF-AF discuss strategic opportunities in Africa

A leadership delegation from the Michigan National Guard recently concluded a visit to U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF) headquarters. The schedule included key leader engagements with a focus on strategic African challenges and opportunities.


“There’s a strategic importance in sharing best practices with our Liberian partners. Whether we’re together at exercise Northern Strike in Michigan, or in Liberia working side-by-side, each of these engagements help build each other’s military capacity.” - Maj. Gen. Paul D. Rogers, MING adjutant general
By Maj. Joe Legros U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa Vicenza, Italy May 12, 2023
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VICENZA, Italy – A leadership delegation from the Michigan National Guard recently concluded a visit to U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF) headquarters. The schedule included key leader engagements with a focus on strategic African challenges and opportunities.

The group consisted of senior Michigan U.S. Army and Air Force captains and junior majors, led by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Rogers, MING adjutant general, and U.S. Air Force Col. Shawn Holtz, MING chief of staff.

“It was our pleasure to host this African-focused group from the Michigan National Guard,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Brian T. Cashman, deputy commanding general of SETAF-AF. “U.S. engagement on the African continent is the core of our mission and at the forefront of our minds every day.”

SETAF-AF synchronizes all U.S. Army operations, activities and investments in Africa, providing scalable contingency response options from platoon-sized elements to Joint Task Force Headquarters. Military engagements include yearly exercises such as African Lion and Justified Accord, the African Land Forces Summit, as well as ongoing military exchanges focused on everything from logistics and security force assistance, to civil affairs and medical readiness.

But why is Michigan interested?

A select group of MING Soldiers and Airmen focused on expanding its knowledge base of every combatant command’s area of responsibility across the globe, starting three years ago.

In 2021, Rogers initiated the MING future strategic leaders program (FSLP). Year one’s cohort focused on challenges within the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility, while year two was dedicated to U.S. European Command. This year’s iteration brought them to U.S. Africa Command and SETAF-AF.

The goal of the program is to prepare officers to consider what competencies are required to advance their career progression to senior leader positions. Participants develop critical thinking skills and a basic understanding of strategic versus operational requirements through exposure to senior leaders.

The program is highly competitive and FSLP candidates are board-selected based on their communication skills, written assignments and commander recommendations.

"The selection process is grueling," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Luke Freudenburg, A5/8 director, 217th Air Component Operations Squadron, 110th Air Wing, MING. "But the reward is significant. We increased our knowledge of Africa, the combatant command structure, as well as how senior leaders plan for current and future engagements throughout the continent."

Even after being selected, participants are expected to give multiple presentations on lessons learned. Additionally, prior to meeting with SETAF-AF leadership, the cohort was instructed to prepare Africa-themed questions ahead of time.

The group researched diverse topics thoroughly, then asked questions such as ‘how does water, food and healthcare serve as a source of conflict in Africa,’ and ‘how do African nations view U.S., Russian, and Chinese involvement on the continent today in a geopolitical, economic and military context?.’

MING also has a vested interest in Africa since initiating the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program with the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) in 2009.

“There’s a strategic importance in sharing best practices with our Liberian partners,” said Rogers. “Whether we’re together at exercise Northern Strike in Michigan, or in Liberia working side-by-side, each of these engagements help build each other’s military capacity.”

Prior to traveling to Italy, this year’s FSLP visited the National Capital Region in Washington, D.C. Participants met with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the African Center for Strategic Studies, the Senate Armed Services Committee professional staff, the Democratic Republic of Congo Ambassador to the U.S., as well as with the U.S. Joint Staff J5.

Discussions and presentations focused on strategic policy and emphasized interagency cooperation, along with country specific briefs.

After visiting SETAF-AF headquarters, the MING delegation put its knowledge to work by traveling to the African countries of Burundi and Liberia.

They met key leaders from the U.S. Embassy in Bujumbura, Burundi, the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia, the Burundi Senior Command and Staff College, USAID, the Economic Community of West African States and the European Union.

The also joined with AFL military counterparts and the Burundi National Defense Force to discuss current operations.

While the FSLP represents an important step in the career progression for these mid-grade officers, the program also highlights the critical role the National Guard plays within combat and peacekeeping operations.

For instance, the U.S. Air Force is composed of one-third Air National Guardsmen, while approximately 40 percent of the U.S. Army’s combat power is drawn from the Army National Guard.

“SETAF-AF relies heavily on contributions from both Army reserve components,” said Cashman, also a U.S. Army Reservist. “There are many reserves and guardsmen based in Italy who work together with our African partners on a regular basis.”

SETAF-AF employs guardsmen and reserve Soldiers from many different military occupational specialties. Tours typically range from one to three year commitments, while providing guardsmen and reservists a taste of full-time active duty service, including the important experience of working side-by-side with multinational forces.

“I believe in investing in our profession,” concluded Rogers. “The FSLP is an opportunity to raise up young leaders, encourage them to build relationships within MING, across the combatant commands and with our multinational partners.”

***** About Northern Strike Held at the National All-Domain Warfighting Center spanning Michigan’s Northern Lower Peninsula, Northern Strike is a National Guard Bureau sponsored, joint accredited exercise that is a tailorable, scalable and cost-effective readiness producer. At the collective training level, Northern Strike maintains, improves or exceeds directed training levels (Joint & Multi-Compo) by providing a venue for units to minimize variances in achieved training proficiency and reduce/validate post-mobilization training requirements.

About SETAF-AF SETAF-AF supports competition, provides command and control in the land domain, strengthens partnerships, sets the theater, and conducts security force assistance in order to achieve U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Army Campaign Plan objectives. On order, SETAF-AF serves as the Joint Task Force - Headquarters in support of USAFRICOM contingency operations.

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