What started last May as a Senior Leader Engagement between Maj. Gen. Gregory Vadnais, the adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard, and Armed Forces of Liberia officials, ended with the construction of two large, multipurpose buildings at the Edward Binyah Kesselly military training facility in Monrovia, Liberia. This week, Vadnais returned to Liberia to see the finished product and celebrate Liberian Armed Forces Day with Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Liberian military leaders, Soldiers and their families.
Michigan and Liberia have been connected in a special way since 2009 when the Michigan National Guard entered into a partnership with Liberia as part of the National Guard State Partnership Program. Over the years, several leader visits have taken place to exchange information and nurture relationships. Last May, Vadnais traveled to Liberia specifically to conduct a Senior Leader Engagement with the Armed Forces of Liberia. During the visit, the AFL Chief of Staff requested advice and assistance with an overcrowding issue at the Edward Binyah Kesselly barracks. Overcrowding puts the health of Soldiers at risk, increases fatigue, and can lead to low morale at a time when the newly formed forces need vitality and unity. After a tour, Vadnais committed Michigan National Guard resources to assist the AFL with efforts to alleviate the overcrowding.
Travel restrictions related to the Ebola virus and other security measures created multiple road blocks to delivering on that assistance promise, but in August 2015, Vadnais sent a Michigan Army National Guard team to EBK to conduct a site visit and to develop a plan for MING Security Cooperation Opportunity Unit Training rotations. The visit was conducted with AFL leadership and the AFL Engineer Company Commander Capt. Dada. Once the team completed the site survey and a course of action was agreed on, the plan and background information progressed to the Office of Security Cooperation, at the U.S. Embassy, for resourcing.
Upon receipt of the documentation, acting OSC Chief, Maj. David Huber, utilized a Foreign Military Financing case to resource and execute four SCOUT rotations, comprised primarily of Michigan Army National Guard engineers, to Liberia from November 2015 to February 2016.
Working with United States Army Africa the OSC was able to contract for the procurement of building materials, basic life support, and lodging for all of the Soldiers. They also secured all of the additional equipment and supplies that would be needed to complete the project. This was the first time the OSC and USARAF were able to work together to utilizing an FMF case model to fund this type of project thus, there were several challenges and hurdles to overcome but Huber’s determination and tenacity paid off as the funding and manning plans were completed and online within the six week window set for that stage of the project.
Armed Forces of Liberia Soldiers apply a cement-like mud to the interior walls of two new multipurpose buildings, Feb. 3, 2016, at the Edward Binyah Kesselly military training facility in Monrovia, Liberia. The buildings were constructed in partnership with Michigan Army National engineers during four Security Cooperation Opportunity Unit Training rotations. Maj. Gen. Gregory Vadnais, adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard traveled to Liberia to cut the ribbon on the buildings and celebrate Liberian Armed Forces Day, Feb. 10, 2016, with the last SCOUT rotation, the MIARNG 1434th Engineer Company, AFL leaders and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Maj. David Huber/Released)
“To say setting this project up in six weeks was a huge accomplishment is an understatement,” said Huber. “It would not have been possible without the outstanding work of Maj. Obie Yordy, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Robert Sexton, and 1st Sgt. Bryon Smith assisting with the planning and execution of these rotations.”
The Soldiers in each rotation completed a three-week Annual Training period during which they improved overall unit readiness by conducting individual military occupational specialty training tasks. Some of the tasks completed during the rotations were, masonry, plumbing, electrical installation, and interior and exterior construction. Soldiers had to adjust to using non-standard building materials and tools amid less than ideal Liberian environmental conditions.
“It was an extremely valuable training experience, particularly for newer Soldiers who had never deployed outside of the United States,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Robert Sexton, the on-site project coordinator who managed the day-to-day challenges. “The look on a Soldier’s face when he realized that there was no Home Depot to run to when a material or tool was needed, was priceless. But for the most part, all of the teams worked together and with Liberian craftsmen to develop plans that were both structurally secure and environmentally safe,” Sexton added.
The project will provide two multipurpose buildings, each measuring approximately 3,600 sq. ft. in size. The buildings divided into four equal rooms in which classes and training can be conducted for further State Partnership Program engagements. The project included wiring the rooms with lights and ceiling fans for use at any time of the day or night.
Engineers from the Michigan Army National Guard, 1434th Engineer Company complete a second roof and assist Armed Forces of Liberia members with interior wall construction on two multipurpose buildings, Feb. 3, 2016, at the Edward Binyah Kesselly military training facility in Monrovia, Liberia. The Michigan Soldiers are the last of four Michigan Security Cooperation Opportunity Unit Training rotations that assisted the AFL with the construction of the buildings. Maj. Gen. Gregory Vadnais, adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard traveled to Liberia to cut the ribbon on the buildings and celebrate Liberian Armed Forces Day, Feb. 10, 2016, with the 1434th, AFL leaders and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Maj. David Huber/Released)
A unique opportunity presented itself to one build team who had among the ranks, several Military Occupational Specialty trained plumbers. Typically, plumbers don’t get the opportunity to conduct much MOS specific training during annual training because any “training” situation that calls for plumbing also calls for the deconstruction of that plumbing at the end of the training. This group however, completed a fully operational plumbing project at the AFL, 23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters, on EBK Barracks, that allows the latrines to have running water to their facilities. The project used the existing rain gutter system to collect rain water that would be stored in an elevated collection barrel that uses gravity to send water to the latrine system as needed. The creative use of elevation and gravity eliminated the need for an electric water pump which is important because electric power at the base is limited to certain hours of the day to conserve and share electricity with all of Monrovia. A single rainy season cycle should create enough tanked water that there will never be a shortage of water supply for the headquarters latrines.
There were many firsts during the SCOUT rotations in addition to the FMF funding model and latrine system. A significant first was the Michigan Air National Guard providing all of the lift assets for Soldiers and equipment supporting the training rotations. The first Michigan Guard KC-135 Stratotankers arrived, Nov. 9, 2015, with the first Michigan Engineer Company, which also made it the first “all Michigan” operation. The KC-135’s picked up the last rotation of Michigan National Guard Soldiers on Feb. 9, 2015, to conclude the missions. The buildings will be dedicated with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Feb 10, 2015, as part of the Liberian Armed Forces Day activities.
For more information about the Michigan National Guard activity in Liberia please visit www.minationalguard.com.