Commentary

The need for staying engaged and connected

When the coronavirus first surfaced in China, it felt like a distant problem. Unfortunately, it quickly transformed into a global issue.

It wrecked economies, drastically reduced human interaction, and commanded the focus of the world.

It caused relationships to change, between people and nations. It caused people and societies to look inwardly and fight hard to understand external happenings.

Just as the Department of Defense is calling for diversity and inclusion in its military ranks, the U.S. government also benefits from diversity and inclusion in its partnerships and dealing with problem sets. When this happens, understanding occurs.

Africa is such a place. While it represents a distant and mysterious place to many, their issues can quickly become our challenges if we don’t remain engaged and connected. Most Americans are unaware the U.S. has a basic security insurance policy at work on the African continent. It mutually protects our African partners and U.S. citizens.

Each day, U.S. forces are monitoring threats in Africa who are seeking to do harm to America. Every day, brave Americans are training African partners to address threats before they can be exported elsewhere. The U.S. military is providing over-watch of groups who are hostile to the U.S., such as ISIS, al-Qaida, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, to name a few. U.S. Africa Command engages African partners to disrupt terrorist ambitions. Many terrorist timelines of destruction have been permanently removed and lives saved due to U.S. airstrike assistance or training. American forces are both building and delivering expertise, providing necessary security and stability in Africa that benefits the U.S.

Yes, places like Africa matter to the world and sadly, most Americans do not fully understand why we are even there. A very small percentage of Americans will actually ever visit the African continent. Hollywood either romanticizes or condemns it. Few realize China is investing heavily there. Russia is strategically positioning itself in many countries. Both scenarios present a security challenge for America and why it is important to engage and connect there.

The security assistance provided in Africa is keeping many threats at a distance. The military support we’ve provided in the past has also kept disease, such as Ebola, contained.

A UN-standard level-2 mobile treatment facility stands in the motor pool of the Uganda Rapid Deployment Capabilities Center in Jinja, Uganda, May 16, 2019. (U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Grady Jones/AFRICOM)
A UN-standard level-2 mobile treatment facility stands in the motor pool of the Uganda Rapid Deployment Capabilities Center in Jinja, Uganda, May 16, 2019. (U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Grady Jones/AFRICOM)

When Africa was struggling with Ebola, U.S. Africa Command helped with emergency response and medical training. For the Ebola crisis, rapid and well-positioned military personnel resulted in training more than 1,500 African health care workers, establishing Ebola treatment units, and ensuring personal protective equipment required to safeguard people. In turn, this kept the disease from traveling across borders and shores.

During the operation, U.S. Africa Command had supported more than 350 strategic and 160-plus intra-theater airlift missions, which carried 6,000-plus passengers and 10,000 short tons of cargo. In response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014, U.S. Africa Command also identified a need to move patients exposed to high consequence infections disease from Africa to the U.S.

The result was the development of the Transport Isolation System, a containment unit that protects aircrew, medics, aircraft, and passengers from patient contamination in-flight.

Critical understanding and lessons from that time and past activity are being applied.

Fast forward to today.

Recently, the TIS technology has been put to operational use by the Department of Defense and U.S. Transportation Command to protect our service members when transporting patients with the coronavirus. U.S. military investment continues to save lives.

In 2019, four African partner nations, Ghana, Senegal, Uganda, and Rwanda, were provided with the U.S. Africa Command training and equipment to efficiently and cost effectively set-up, and operate United Nations-standard level-2 hospitals through the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership program. This capability is being used today to treat COVID-19 cases.

All of these lessons and investments will benefit future U.S. security. Had we not engaged and sought inclusive solutions, Ebola and the challenges experienced would have been felt more broadly. U.S. global leadership keeps America and others safer, and more secure.

While the U.S. may not always have resources to lead in every scenario, finding ways to remain connected and part of international solutions is necessary. Remaining involved brings solutions. In a globally connected world, issues faced by one country are frequently experienced on some level by all. COVID-19 and global challenges require inclusive and diverse perspectives. This week the DOD announced the standup of the Defense Board on Diversity and Inclusion. As we look to become more diverse and inclusive across all DoD military services, the same benefit applies to our global partnerships.

As COVID-19 demonstrated, we cannot afford to face the challenges of the world alone. Otherwise, we may miss or delay solutions to problems impacting us all. The safety and security of the nation depends on remaining engaged and connected.

Col. Christopher Karns is U.S. Africa Command’s director of public affairs.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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