By Capt. Marc Lederer
USNS Spearhead Africa Partnership Station Mission Commander
It has been roughly three-and-a-half months since Spearhead departed Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Va., on the first part of her maiden deployment to U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) theaters. Since that time, we’ve traveled thousands of miles, visited nine different countries, and participated in several partnership-building engagements. As mission commander of this unique phase of her maiden deployment, I was privileged to see firsthand the passionate energy our partners bring to the table to ensure maritime security.
Primarily serving in West Africa, Spearhead operated with our African partners along their nations’ coastlines, economic exclusion zones, and international waters to ensure maritime security and protect maritime economic outputs such as fishing. Along the way, we had the opportunity to work directly work with naval forces from the Senegalese Navy, Liberian Coast Guard, Ghanaian Navy and Marine Police, Togolese Navy, both the Nigerian Navy and Special Boat Service (SBS) and the Battalion d’Intervention Rapide (B.I.R.).
Under the umbrella of Africa Partnership Station, we participated in the annual exercise Obangame Express. Exercises like Obangame Express provide the opportunity for West African nations to come together and build additional capabilities as they focus on interoperability in such areas as the Gulf of Guinea. As Maritime Operations Centers (MOCs) like those in Lagos, Nigeria and Douala, Cameroon, part of a number of MOCs involved in the exercise, build capacity to operate in a complex environment, Gulf of Guinea nations – and their maritime forces – grow stronger and have a better chance of countering illicit activity in their territorial waters. As the regional partnerships grow stronger, so do the relationships between sailors of every nation with a vested interest in maritime security.
Serving forward during Spearhead’s maiden deployment was a great opportunity, in terms of experiencing the partnerships amongst West African nations and siting down and talking with fellow sailors throughout the region. This not only increased mutual understanding of our respective maritime services, but also formed bonds that will last a lifetime. Having had the chance to speak with members of each of the respective country’s forces, I can tell you it was an extremely rewarding experience.
I offer that the more the U.S. Navy operates forward, and the more we participate in partnership engagements, the more we come to focus on the people and the importance of fostering lifelong relationships. While supporting Africa Partnership Station, I met a fellow Senegalese officer, who like me, is a Naval War College graduate; I also met a Cameroonian officer who is slated to attend the War College this summer. It reminded me of a fellow South Korean Army officer who was in my Joint Forces Staff College seminar in 2007. Having lost touch, we reconnected last August when I was supporting the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise at their army headquarters in Daegu – he saw me on a video teleconference and contacted me through one of the other Republican of Korean Army officers. It can be a very small world at times—which makes building friendships so vital.
Spearhead returned to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story today, capping the first of two chapters in what will be a historic maiden deployment. I am not sure when I will have another opportunity to support Africa Partnership Station, but I know that I will bump into one of the officers from our partner nations at some point in the future. While we may have only served together briefly, we share the common thread of service to our nation. We remain focused on the safety and security of our countries and it brings us closer together, brothers-in-arms connected by a common goal.