Enhancing capacity in Burundi

December 29, 2010

1st Lt. Corey Lies wrote

 Our team arrived at the Bujumbura International Airport in Burundi along with two other teams. There we met up with the State Department manager for Burundi who linked us up with our drivers and armed guards and headed to our hotel.

The hotel is a four-star resort setting with a large pool and amenities to include massages and outdoor dining.  The hotel menu is tough to beat, offering everything from pizza to goat, and is some of the better food I have experienced since arriving on the continent.  After checking in, we headed into the city to exchange currency and pick up some lunch.

Among popular things to do outside of work were boat rides on the lake, art shopping and a trip to the zoo, all of which had to be done in the next day and a half, as we were set to fly out before the next weekend.

The first day of our exercise it rained enough to soften the unpaved roads. We convoyed through a newly made dirt road leaving some huge ruts. Some of the team members were disappointed we had taken that route and ruined the road. However, it was graded and back to normal within a few days.

The training site is located on a hilltop with an awesome view of the valley. The classrooms are very basic, large rooms in a building with a tin roof.  An old Belgian structure is located on site that Belgian royalty apparently utilized during their rule to observe marksmanship skills.

Things got off to a very slow start on the first day of training as the classes were taught in French, and all published documents, including the Brigade Operations Order, were in French.   This made it very difficult for our team to follow what was going on.  Translation was very difficult when our English/French speaking team members were not present, as very few Burundian soldiers spoke English.

We plugged along and were gradually utilized as mentors more heavily by our staff counterparts as trust and mutual respect was built.  By the end of the week the soldiers had a better understanding of the big picture and were handling different scenarios in a more timely manner.  They performed well on their Battalion Operations Order brief and received praise from the staff and mentors for their improvement.

In the end, I felt I was able to share some great knowledge with my staff counterpart to help him prepare for future deployments.

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