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US air advisors pioneer new DOD training in Zambia

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. (AFNS) -- Eight members of the 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron traveled to Lusaka, Zambia, to take part in a first of its kind Department of Defense training event, March 21.

The team engaged with 20 members of the Zambian air force to accomplish two objectives: share ideas and to train.

The Congressional authority, under Section 1203 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015, enables air advisors to build partnerships with a strategic U.S. ally while expanding their unit's air advising capabilities at the same time.

"This is the first time the new Section 1203 authority has been used by general purpose forces to train with friendly foreign military forces," said Maj. Michael Morrow, assigned to the 818th MSAS, and the 1203 mission commander. "In order to be an effective air advisor, extensive training is necessary. Each mission presents an opportunity to upgrade a new advisor. Normally, we can only upgrade a maximum of two people per trip, but due to the nature of a 1203 mission we were able to upgrade six team members."

The training events allow the department to expand and enhance partner capacity in the African area of responsibility (AOR). They are also a key component of the building partnership capacity efforts supporting Air Forces Africa partnership engagement objectives, although getting the initial approval of the Section 1203 was a lengthy process.

"Planning for any engagement in a foreign country requires close attention to every detail for safety of the team and success of the mission," Morrow said. "For this engagement in particular, it was a six month process to draft the concept of operations and request authority through Congress. Because it had never been done before, coordination took countless phone calls, e-mails, routing and re-writes within the Air Force and the departments of Defense and State. To finally be in country and interact with the Zambian air force has been extremely rewarding."

According to Morrow, the extensive planning process paid off. With upgrade training out of the way, the air advisors were able to focus on their main mission of sharing ideas with partner nations.

"No single country has all the knowledge and resources needed to rapidly and efficiently mitigate every potential disaster around the world," Morrow said. "We need to work together and learn from each other. The need to share best practices for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief principles is critical. The Zambian air force showed great enthusiasm in sharing their response methods during the discussion phase and table-top exercise at the end. I learned so much from them in a relatively short time."

"This first ever 1203 mission was a tremendous success," said Lt. Col. Pete Larsen, the 818th MSAS commander. "The new authority has allowed us to strengthen our military-to-military relationship with an important African partner to the U.S., while ensuring that our air advisors are trained and ready to execute their building partner capacity mission."

Despite the fact that this is the first Section 1203 mission, the team has not identified any barriers to mission success.

"I was able to upgrade six members of my team and focus on working with the partner nation smoothly," said Master Sgt. Derrick Lodge, assigned to the 818th MSAS. "It helps that the Zambian air force is an extremely professional force. We found them to be enthusiastic for the opportunity to listen to how the U.S. Air Force conducts humanitarian assistance missions and were eager to share their own experiences with responding to natural disasters here in their country, as well as those in other parts of Africa."

"Our Air Force is newer," said Zambian air force Lt. Col. M. Mukuka, the commanding officer for 15th Squadron. "It is still growing and learning from bigger Air Forces. The training helps to build partnerships for future issues, giving different dimensions to work with. We are now looking at it on a different dimension."

The 818th MSAS brought this new mission to a close, strengthening relationships in the African AOR and strengthening the humanitarian aid reliability in Zambia.

"I feel truly fortunate to have had this unique opportunity to focus on training air advisors while at the same time sharing best practices on a topic that knows no boundaries," Lodge said. "For me, there is no higher calling than humanitarian assistance and providing relief to those in desperate need. It was humbling to know the Zambian air force holds that same opinion."

"This program has been very useful to us," said Zambian air force Lt. Col. Phiri, the commanding officer of the Flying Wing for Air Transport. "The way we respond to disaster has improved."

"Zambia is only the first country to be involved," Larsen said. "Follow-on 1203 engagements will go a long way to advancing interoperability and regional stability in Africa. We are already considering other countries that fit into AFAFRICA's (Air Forces Africa) strategic objectives for the next 1203 mission."

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