RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — U.S. Air Forces Africa is looking for a few good airmen.

The command recently launched an initiative seeking volunteers for short deployments to Africa in an effort to build a cadre of experienced airmen, while also addressing some staffing shortages.

Creating a volunteer pool might help AFAFRICA avoid postponing or canceling future events, said Col. Catherine Chin, AFAFRICA director of manpower, personnel and services. At the start of fiscal 2010, the command had about 100 events planned for the African theater. But because of logistical challenges including the lack of staffing, the number of missions was scaled back to 60.

Without any assigned wings, the command has to request troops through the Air Force, a process that can take up to four months. And on occasion, the command doesn’t get the airmen they request, or in time, which forces them to cancel or postpone missions.

Plus, the command never gets the same airmen twice, which can slow relationship-building on the continent, officials said.

“We’re trying to build an experienced pool of volunteers who can deploy to Africa,” Chin said.

AFAFRICA officials say the program, believed to be a first for the Air Force, is a creative solution to not having its own troops. Most volunteers will participate in 8-to-10-day “theater security cooperation” events in Africa, missions aimed at helping nations improve their air infrastructure, safety and security. Examples of past events include a military working dog demonstration in Ghana, the sharing of C-130 flight tactics in Algeria, and flight medicine training in Mali.

So far, interest from airmen in the volunteer program has exceeded expectations, Chin said.

Within the first few weeks of putting out the call for volunteers in late May, more than 60 people signed up. An additional 50 have either been approved or are in the application process, she said.

To qualify, an airman must be in good standing, meet Air Force fitness requirements, complete 10 hours of online cultural training, and be recommended by their squadron commander. And they must be outside their Air Expeditionary Force window of deployment.

“Ultimately, commanders have the stick,” Chin said. “They get to decide whether their people are available or not.”

AFAFRICA is looking for airmen across all career fields and ranks. Some applicants have extensive African experience, Chin said, such as growing up in Africa with missionary parents. Others are fluent in languages spoken in Africa, such as Arabic and Amharic, she said. “Then there are just people really enthusiastic about the mission, who think it’s cool …who want to support AFAFRICA,” she said. “And there’s a place for them too.”

U.S. Africa Command, AFAFRICA’s parent command, has faced similar challenges finding troops for their missions.

A Government Accountability Office report released last month described AFRICOM’s lack of assigned troops as a handicap.

“From AFRICOM’s and some military service components’ perspective, having to formally request forces for all activities may affect AFRICOM’s effectiveness if there are greater DOD priorities,” the GAO reported. “Furthermore, the special operations command component stated that, without assigned forces, it cannot act as a crisis-response force, which is the role of special operations commands in other combatant commands.”

But officials at command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, said of the hundreds of activities the command carries out each year, only a handful get cancelled or delayed because of staffing issues, and those tend to be specialized missions that require specialized staff.

For more information on the Air Force program, airmen can go to the “17th AF Theater Security Cooperation Volunteer Initiative” on the Air Force portal homepage,, and click on Air Force Announcements.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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