Freetown — Nearly 1,000 Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) personnel completed training for an upcoming African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) deployment, in May 2012.
U.S. Army Africa Commander, Major General David R. Hogg and U.S. Ambassador to the Republic Sierra Leone, Michael S. Owen, were on hand to address RSLAF soldiers and dignitaries at the event in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
"You are now going to be part of a small band of brothers who are members of the AMISOM peacekeeping mission in Somalia. A small but important number," Hogg told the RLSAF troops.
"The strides and progress made in Somalia are huge. In Mogadishu, people are able to go to the market without getting killed because of what AMISOM has done. You will join the Kenyan forces in Southern Somalia to continue to push al-Shabaab and other miscreants from Somalia so it can be free of tyranny and terrorism and all the evil that comes with it," Hogg said.
"We know that you are ready and trained. You will be equipped and you will accomplish this mission with honor and dignity," concluded Hogg.
U.S. Army Africa's Sergeant 1st Class Grady Hyatt attended the ceremony. Hyatt worked with RSLAF personnel to prepare them for the upcoming Somalia deployment. Hyatt is a military mentor working for USARAF in the U.S. Department of State's African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program known as ACOTA.
Hyatt said once some of the basic communication challenges were ironed out, the training with the RSLAF troops went smoothly.
"I'm extremely proud of what these soldiers have accomplished. They are a well organized and disciplined unit," Hyatt said.
ACOTA events are coordinated and monitored through the U.S. Embassy's military attache office. Ambassador Owen gave historical perspective to peacekeeping and Sierra Leone.
"Indeed, it should be a source of national pride to all Sierra Leoneans that this country -- in the space of ten short years -- has gone from being a country that requires peacekeepers to a country that supplies peacekeepers," Owen said.
"It is also fitting that this graduation should take place during the same month as the historic verdict by the Special Court for Sierra Leone convicting Charles Taylor of war crimes for his role in the brutal cross-border conflicts of the 1990s," Owen said.
Owen recognized the strides that have been made in Sierra Leone.
"Both events send a message that Sierra Leone has turned a corner -- and it is not turning back. It is looking forward. It's fitting that we take a moment to reflect on what has been accomplished. To reflect on the sacrifices and heroism, allow us all to stand here this morning, as representatives of two peaceful and friendly nations.
Two nations with a shared history, and two nations with a shared interest in regional and global security," Owen said.
For Colonel David Taluva, RSLAF training group commander, the path for his troops becoming peacekeeper has been evolutionary.
"We've come a long way as a nation," said Taluva. "We have tasted the bitter side of war. We were able to manage our crisis and we have peace. We are now exporting peace. It's a great privilege."
Owen expressed his satisfaction with the role played by the U.S. Department of State in the training of the RSLAF soldiers.