Maj. Gen. Michael A. Snodgrass
Maj. Gen. Michael A. Snodgrass, chief of staff, U.S. Africa Command
AFRICOM chief of staff visits Vance

by 2nd Lt. Lynn Aird
71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

6/16/2009 - VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Maj. Gen. Michael A. Snodgrass, U.S. Africa Command chief of staff, discussed the newest unified combatant command during his visit to Vance Air Force Base as the graduation ceremony guest speaker for Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 09-10.

"Africa Command went from a concept in fall of 2006 to an initial capability in 2007," General Snodgrass said. "And in the last 18 months we have gone from a small group of dedicated professionals to a staff of 1,000 inhabiting 15 buildings and working with 53 nations." 

AFRICOM was created in response to a growing realization of Africa's significance in a global context. Prior to its creation, U.S. European Command, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command divided responsibility for U.S. military operations in Africa. The command was established Oct. 1, 2007, as a temporary sub-unified command under U.S. European Command, and was formally activated Oct. 1, 2008.

"In dealing with the issues that face Africa, we've had to change our own thinking more than anything else. The Air Force is used to dealing with high-end combat situations, but here we're facing a completely different problem set," General Snodgrass said. "The militaries here are looking more for training to increase professionalism, techniques for how to employ their forces or support with their equipment."

All U.S. geographic commands are responsible for planning, directing and executing joint U.S. military operations in their assigned area. In response to the needs of African nations, AFRICOM operates in such a way that the military, in many cases, plays a secondary role to other efforts.

"We are helping the militaries to improve -- they want to get to the point where they are functional enough to take care of their own problems, as well as be able to assist neighboring countries," General Snodgrass said. "So we take an individual look at all 53 nations, keeping a dialogue open with their leaders as well as our ambassadors. Our role is much more of a supporting one."

According to the general, the U.S. military is in an excellent position to help African militaries expand their capabilities. The Air Force in particular, being globally deployed and engaged and possessing such a wide range of skills, is in a unique position to foster the development of these nations' militaries and move them toward the level of capability they hope to attain.

"It's been a whirlwind and an intellectual challenge to accommodate the various duties," General Snodgrass said. "But the future of our engagement stems from helping our friends and allies to have stronger, more professional militaries."