Michigan Army National Guard Soldiers, Chief Warrant Officer 3 John Laliberte and Sgt. Matthew Robinson traveled to Liberia in June to provide counterintelligence support to the Armed Forces of Liberia soldiers.
Laliberte and Robinson are assigned to Company B, 37th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, based in Lansing, Michigan. Their mission in Liberia supported the U.S. Department of Defense State Partnership Program, which is administered by the states' National Guard adjutants general.
The Republic of Liberia entered in the State Partnership Program in 2010 after years of civil war and has partnered with Michigan, whose National Guard members conduct military-to-military engagements with the Liberians in support of defense security goals. The partnership encourages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities as well as interagency engagement with the military, government, and social spheres.
While in Liberia, Laliberte and Robinson instructed counterintelligence measures to 17 AFL soldiers from the Monrovia-based Headquarters, 23rd Infantry Brigade. In Michigan, Laliberte, from Waterford, is a guidance counselor for Wayne State University and Robinson, who is from Ypsilanti, is a student at Eastern Michigan University.
Their classroom in Liberia was an open-air, pole-barn style building with a gravel floor where they familiarized the AFL soldiers on ways to enhance security and protect military commands from threats of espionage, sabotage, and terrorism.
The Armed Forces of Liberia implemented its first formal operation, security training program in 2012. Michigan's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Gregory Vadnais is committed to his state's partnership with Liberia and the state's support to promote force protection.
"After the years of civil war, there is a potential threat that the current relative stability in the region could seduce the AFL into a complacency and lack of situational awareness," said Vadnais. "When you see the threats and instability in neighboring Nigeria, you realize how important it is for the country to maintain a high level of security."
The Liberians were very receptive to the Michigan Guardsmen and showed interest in learning how to assess their security vulnerabilities. Laliberte and Robinson administered hands-on practical exercises at the Edward B. Kesselly Barracks in Monrovia to enhance the Liberian soldiers' understanding of force protection and their ability to recognize physical security risks.
"The soldiers were really warm and friendly and were very interested in learning about America," said Laliberte. "We ate our meals together, and although we were only there seven days, we could tell that they welcomed the U.S. presence."
The Liberian-Michigan partnership is in its fourth year. Michigan was one of the first three states chosen to enter into the State Partnership Program when partnered with Latvia in 1993.
According to the National Guard Bureau's SPP website, the State Partnership Program "is becoming a key U.S. security cooperation tool, facilitating cooperation across all aspects of international civil-military affairs and encouraging people-to-people ties at the state level."