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Ugandan troops support US airlift missions

Rwandan soldiers wait in line Jan. 19, 2014, at the Kigali airport to get on a C-17 Globemaster III, based out of McChord Air Force Base, Wash. U.S. forces will transport a total number of 850 Rwandan soldiers and more than 1,000 tons of equipment into the Central African Republic to aid French and African Union operations against militants during this three weeklong operation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)

Rwandan soldiers wait in line Jan. 19, 2014, at the Kigali airport to get on a C-17 Globemaster III, based out of McChord Air Force Base, Wash. U.S. forces will transport a total number of 850 Rwandan soldiers and more than 1,000 tons of equipment into the Central African Republic to aid French and African Union operations against militants during this three-week operation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)

Rwandan soldiers wait in line at the Kigali airport Jan. 19, 2014, to get on a C-17 Globemaster III, based out of McChord Air Force Base, Wash. U.S. forces will transport a total number of 850 Rwandan soldiers and more than 1,000 tons of equipment into the Central African Republic to aid French and African Union operations against militants during this three-week operation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)

Rwandan soldiers wait in line at the Kigali airport Jan. 19, 2014, to get on a C-17 Globemaster III, based out of McChord Air Force Base, Wash. U.S. forces will transport a total number of 850 Rwandan soldiers and more than 1,000 tons of equipment into the Central African Republic to aid French and African Union operations against militants during this three-week operation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)

A Rwandan soldier stands guard Jan. 19, 2014, at an airfield in the Central African Republic with a refugee camp full of displaced citizens. U.S. forces will transport a total number of 850 Rwandan soldiers and more than 1,000 tons of equipment into the Central African Republic to aid French and African Union operations against militants during this three week-long operation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)

A Rwandan soldier stands guard Jan. 19, 2014, at an airfield in the Central African Republic with a refugee camp full of displaced citizens. U.S. forces will transport a total number of 850 Rwandan soldiers and more than 1,000 tons of equipment into the Central African Republic to aid French and African Union operations against militants during this three-week operation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)

ENTEBBE, Uganda (AFNS) -- As U.S. airlift missions operating at the request of the French government and African Union authorities continue, Uganda maintains their role as a key U.S. strategic partner.

In just two months, the Ugandans allowed the U.S. military to stage at least three essential missions out of Entebbe.

"The Ugandans have been invaluable," said Col. William Wyatt, the chief of the Office of Security Cooperation Uganda. "Both the civil aviation authority and Ugandan People's Defense Force have been instrumental in helping us stage important missions out of Entebbe."

Most recently, the U.S. Airmen have been staging two C-17 Globemaster III aircraft out of Uganda to provide airlift support to a Rwandan mechanized battalion. The U.S. military is transporting equipment and soldiers to the Central African Republic in support of the African Union's effort to confront destabilizing forces and violence.

The ability to stage missions out of Uganda has been vital to mission success.

"Every day, we coordinate with the Entebbe Handling Service and they provide us with crew buses and maintenance towing capabilities," said Maj. Micah Vander Veen, the contingency response element commander and overall mission commander for the Entebbe stage. "They provide us with everything we need around the airfield, including security services."

The Rwandan airlifting mission began Jan. 16 and is scheduled to continue through the month.

In December 2013, the U.S. staged a Burundi airlift mission out of Uganda in support of the same African Union operation. The duration of the operation was approximately 10 days.

"With the rapid pace of events in East Africa the additional presence of the U.S. military was felt at Entebbe," Wyatt said. "However, the government of Uganda was very helpful in allowing U.S. forces to conduct these important missions in support of the African Union for the Central African Republic and evacuation of noncombatants from South Sudan."

The most notable support the Ugandans have shown to the U.S. occurred when three CV-22 Ospreys were forced to divert to Entebbe after being fired upon, wounding four personnel on board. The aircraft were attempting to land in Bor, to evacuate Americans from South Sudan. 

During this diversion the Ugandans were conducting their own noncombatant evacuation operations out of Juba, South Sudan.

"When the U.S. had to emergency land in Entebbe, they were forced to occupy the only area on the airfield with lights," Wyatt said. "It was difficult for the Ugandans to process their people in the dark."

The civil aviation authorities and Ugandan's People Defense Air Force worked closely with U.S. Department of Defense authorities to make this mission and others a success.

Uganda is located in the geographical heart of Africa and it is evident they have played a critical role in past and current operations.

Vander Veen echoed positive sentiments as he spoke about the current airlift operation with the Rwandan soldiers, "Things are going extremely well, and the Ugandans have been strong partners in this operation."

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