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Visiting and Learning from Africa’s Expeditionary Air Bases

Grand Mosque of Agadez in Niger

Grand Mosque of Agadez in Niger

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --

Standing in the Grand Mosque of Agadez in Niger, Dr. Scott Edmondson knew this was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Air Force Culture and Language Center’s Assistant Professor of Regional and Cultural Studies (Africa) had been to Africa many times but admitted he’s never seen Niger like this.

In addition to visiting the historic city of Agadez, “this was my first opportunity to visit our expeditionary air bases in Africa, but I hope to make similar visits in the future,” Edmondson said. “While I’ve done field research in the region before, it has not necessarily had a focus on military personnel, so this was a chance to attend and observe some of these military exchanges.”

Nigerien Air Base 101 and 201 (AB 101 and AB 201) were built at the request of the Niger government. Airmen there help African partners counter violent extremist organizations. As an expert with AFCLC, Dr. Edmondson was invited to experience it firsthand.

“Col Creer, the commander of the 409th Air Expeditionary Group (AEG), and his command chief, CMSgt Armga, invited me to visit AB 201 in Agadez. I met Col Creer and Chief Armga at Ramstein Air Force Base. The 435th Air Expeditionary Wing (AEW) Command Chief, Chief Unterseher, invited me there to give a presentation at the 435th AEW Commander’s Conference on ‘Sociocultural Contexts and Dynamics in Africa.’ Chief Unterseher was a student of mine during his time at Air War College (AWC). After the presentation, I stayed for the rest of the conference and talked with the attendees. I asked Col Creer about AB 201’s relationship with the local community in Agadez and how we partner with Nigeriens, and he invited me to come to see for myself.”

So, the 409th AEG and AFCLC arranged for Dr. Edmondson to visit AB 101 and AB 201 in January 2020. His visit coincided with two key events at AB 201: the 409th AEG Commander’s Conference, where he would give another presentation, and the ceremony to dedicate a C-130 hangar the U.S. provided to Niger. Just getting to Agadez was an object lesson on how the U.S. supports transport and logistics to this relatively remote location.

I met with personnel and got a sense of the work they did with a particular interest in what sort of engagement they had with Nigerien and other foreign partners. I was able to attend and observe coordination meetings with liaison officers from different countries and get an on-the-ground perspective on operations and policy in the region.”

While there, he shared his work at AFCLC. The Air Force Culture and Language Center creates language, region, and cultural learning programs for Total Force Airmen and provides the Service with the subject matter expertise required to institutionalize these efforts.

“At AFCLC, we are dedicated to language, regional expertise, and culture (LREC) education and training for the Total Force, and this trip afforded multiple opportunities to give talks and classes on the region for deployed personnel. This trip also allowed me to engage a diverse array of people with various jobs and specialties, and discuss how they prepare for deployment from an LREC standpoint and get their suggestions on how to improve that preparation. It is one thing to read recommendations in an After Action Report, but it is quite another to be there observing our Airmen. For example, we discussed security cooperation with Nigerien partners who may speak three different languages most of us do not, the different worldviews and ideas associated with this environment and mission, and how to navigate any challenges,” he said.

Along with speaking to Airmen about the culture, Dr. Edmondson experienced the culture, including a visit to the Historic Centre of Agadez, established in the 15th and 16th centuries as an important cultural and commercial crossroads, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[1]  “Some of the most memorable moments were meeting the Sultan of Aïr/Agadez, touring the mosque, and then breakfast with the U.S. Ambassador to Niger Eric Whitaker the morning after the hangar dedication.”

 

 

Now that he’s back in the United States, Dr. Edmondson said his work is not done. 

“Since I’ve returned, I’ve been trying to support our language division and the Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP) scholars as they design language and culture learning opportunities for personnel on some of these bases. We are looking to include introductory French and Hausa, as well as some intercultural lessons learned from our LEAP scholars who have spent time in Niger and the region. This is a pilot and may continue as-is and/or it will inform other sorts of LREC training and education efforts, whether pre-deployment or while deployed,” Dr. Edmondson said.

Insights gained from the trip also fed directly into an elective on Africa he was teaching at the time and later informed AFCLC’s General Officer Pre-Deployment Acculturation Course (GOPAC) for AFRICOM Deputy Commander, Lt Gen Kirk Smith. As Dr. Edmondson remarked, “For the last decade working for the military as an analyst and instructor, I have thought it critically important to strengthen the feedback loop between the operational force and the schoolhouse—to keep our courses credible and relevant—and this was a unique opportunity to do that. To get that insight into what our ‘students’ may experience in a deployed environment is invaluable and perhaps too rare, so I am extremely thankful to all those who made it possible.”