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GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Zambian and Botswanan soldiers were among the hundreds of troops who graduated Wednesday from the 7th Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy’s Warrior Leader Course — another sign of the U.S. military’s increased focus on the continent.

Army officials hope that training African enlisted military leaders in Grafenwöhr will pay dividends if those countries decide to set up their own noncommissioned officer development programs, according to U.S. Army Europe Command Sgt. Maj. Iuniasolua Savusa, who spoke at the graduation.

And with the U.S. standing up its new Africa Command on Oct. 1, more Africans will be attending the NCO academy in the future, said Savusa, who is leaving Europe to become the NATO command sergeant major in Afghanistan.

"The goal is to train their leaders and to assist them in standing up NCO academies within their own armies whether they model them after the U.S. or build their own to fit their values and traditions," he said.

The U.S. Army’s use of enlisted leaders in the war makes its approach to NCO training and use of enlisted leaders in combat a proven commodity, Savusa said.

"Other armies are looking at that concept of NCOs," he said. "A lot have come on board and say they want this concept in their army."

Eastern European armies have been sending their NCOs to the Warrior Leader Course for years, and many of those nations are following the U.S. Army model for NCO development, he said.

The same could happen in Africa, he said.

"If this is the model they want, we will push forward and help them develop their programs and instruction," he said.

The two Botswanan soldiers and two Zambian NCOs — along with a couple of Liberian soldiers who graduated from the course earlier this year — are the first Africans to attend the academy in recent years.

Red, black and white plumage made Sgt. Fomard Othusitse’s hat stand out from the black U.S. berets in formation at the academy’s graduation ceremony. The tall, 38-year-old Botswanan said he’d recommend other soldiers from his nation attend the course.

"I’m the first from my country to come here and enjoyed it greatly," he said with a proud smile.

Botswana, with a population of 1.7 million, has only 15,000 soldiers in its army. But the force is growing to deal with illegal immigrants from neighboring Zimbabwe, where the corrupt regime of Robert Mugabe is forcing many to flee. However, Othusitse said, the army’s main role is to stop poachers who prey on threatened wildlife such as elephants, zebras, giraffes, rhinos, lions and buffalo.

Another of the African graduates, Sgt. Klaus Muleya, has deployed to Sierra Leone with the Zambian army to help disarm warring factions. That mission has ended, and now Zambia is part of an African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan.

Learning how Americans do things will be a useful skill on future peacekeeping missions, he said.

"Once in a while, we have to interact, so if we meet in U.N. peacekeeping, it will be very easy to work together," he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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