U.S. Army Africa Soldiers Assist Rwandan Airlift For Peacekeepers In Darfur
By Rick Scavetta
U.S. Army Africa Public Affairs
When a U.S. Air Force officer saw Rwandan soldiers marking equipment and loading gear onto a C-17 cargo plane at Kigali International Airport, he asked Staff Sgt. Brian Ruse if that was okay.
Ruse and 1st Lt. Charlie Jones, both Soldiers with U.S Army-Africa, had been training the Rwandan Defense Force to do the job.
“It’s all right, sir,” Ruse told the officer, “They got it.”
Ruse, 31, of Summerville, SC, and Jones, 25, of San Diego, deployed to Rwanda in early January. Around that time, the U.S. government announced U.S. Africa Command would support the international peacekeeping mission in Darfur by airlifting Rwandan peacekeepers’ equipment into the war-torn region of the Sudan.
That day, Ruse and Jones were already headed to Africa. They learned about the airlift mission when the arrived in Rwanda.
“We were there to train members of the Rwandan Defense Force to U.S. standards for airlifting cargo,” Jones said. “We ended up partnering with an African nation to help get their mission done.”
The Soldiers’ assignment began Jan. 7, when 36 Rwandans gathered in the third-floor classroom in the Kigali airport terminal. Jones covered the role of a unit movement officer and the basics of loading military gear onto aircraft. Ruse then explained how to handle and mark hazardous material for shipment.
“The RDF is a very professional military,” Jones said. “The students were very attentive and eager to learn the material and they did not hesitate to ask questions.”
Soon, RDF soldiers were building shipping pallets and preparing equipment for air movement. Their first test was to load and unload wooden pallets from a MI-17 helicopter from the Rwanda Air Force. They also learned how to prepare vehicles to load on planes.
On Jan. 14, when a U.S. Air Force C-17 landed in Kigali, the Rwandan team was prepared to do its first mission, loading their equipment onto American planes.
“We were helping the RDF with materials that they needed airlifted to their peacekeeping mission in Dafur,” Ruse said. “We helped make sure it was done right, so there weren’t any hiccups with the Air Force”
Senior Rwandan military leaders and the local press were on hand to see the planes loaded, Jones said.
“There were high expectations, but everything went well,” Jones said. “We made sure that our command has a good name in Rwanda and set the standard for future missions.”
In December 2008, Southern European Task Force (SETAF) began its transformation to become the Army component to U.S. Africa Command.
The mission Jones and Ruse accomplished is part of an ongoing U.S. effort to build strong partnerships with African nations.
Both Soldiers relied on knowledge from previous assignments. In 2008, Jones returned from a yearlong combat deployment in Jalalabad, Afghanistan with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, where he gained valuable logistics experience - especially preparing equipment for airlifts.
“I had been through that process with the brigade, so when got back from deployment, they asked me to train others in Africa,” Jones said.
Ruse, a tracked vehicle mechanic who served six months in Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division, arrived at SETAF in Nov. 2007. A 12-year veteran, Ruse serves as a platoon sergeant and shop foreman at the headquarters company motor pool. Ruse is also an expert in handling dangerous materials. Not only can he package such things as chemicals, fuel and ammunition, he is certified to train others.
Jones and Ruse made their first trip to Africa in July 2008 to train Ugandan soldiers in Entebbe, Uganda. The Rwanda mission allowed Ruse and Jones to further explore African culture.
A Rwandan captain even invited Ruse and Jones to his home, where they met his family and enjoyed a home-cooked meal of fish, meat and rice.
“It reminded me of back home,” Ruse said. “They were very friendly and welcoming.”
On the tarmac though, the RDF were all business. The Rwandans quickly put the skills they learned during training into practice, beating the standard U.S .Air Force loading times, Jones said. Both Jones and Ruse assisted their Rwandan partners during the upload, but mostly credit the RDF Soldiers for their motivation.
“For us, this was rewarding. They learned really well and took charge,” Ruse said. “For them, it was a mission accomplished.”
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ruse and 1st Lt. Charlie Jones
United States Army Africa
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