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Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, left, greets officers from 26 countries during the African Air Chiefs Symposium at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016. The annual symposium lasts five days and allows American and African air force officers to collaborate on issues affecting aviation across Africa.

Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, left, greets officers from 26 countries during the African Air Chiefs Symposium at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016. The annual symposium lasts five days and allows American and African air force officers to collaborate on issues affecting aviation across Africa. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, left, greets officers from 26 countries during the African Air Chiefs Symposium at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016. The annual symposium lasts five days and allows American and African air force officers to collaborate on issues affecting aviation across Africa.

Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, left, greets officers from 26 countries during the African Air Chiefs Symposium at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016. The annual symposium lasts five days and allows American and African air force officers to collaborate on issues affecting aviation across Africa. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

Officers from 26 African countries enter the U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa headquarters at the start of the African Air Chiefs Symposium at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016. This is the first year that Ramstein has hosted the annual conference.

Officers from 26 African countries enter the U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa headquarters at the start of the African Air Chiefs Symposium at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016. This is the first year that Ramstein has hosted the annual conference. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, left, greets Senegalese Navy Commander Ousmane Traore during the African Air Chiefs Symposium at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016.

Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, left, greets Senegalese Navy Commander Ousmane Traore during the African Air Chiefs Symposium at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

Officers attending the African Air Chiefs Symposium attendees take their seats at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016. The annual symposium lasts five days and allows American and African air forces to collaborate on various issues affecting aviation across Africa.

Officers attending the African Air Chiefs Symposium attendees take their seats at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016. The annual symposium lasts five days and allows American and African air forces to collaborate on various issues affecting aviation across Africa. ()

Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, center, delivers opening remarks during the African Air Chiefs Symposium at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016.

Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, center, delivers opening remarks during the African Air Chiefs Symposium at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

African Air Chiefs Symposium attendees listen as Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, gives opening remarks at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016. Representatives from 26 African countries attended this year's symposium.

African Air Chiefs Symposium attendees listen as Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, gives opening remarks at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016. Representatives from 26 African countries attended this year's symposium. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

Rwandan Defense Forces Brig. Gen. Charles Karamba, center, speaks during the African Air Chiefs Symposium at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016.

Rwandan Defense Forces Brig. Gen. Charles Karamba, center, speaks during the African Air Chiefs Symposium at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, answers questions during an interview at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016. Gorenc discussed the goals for this year's African Air Chiefs Symposium.

Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, answers questions during an interview at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2016. Gorenc discussed the goals for this year's African Air Chiefs Symposium. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Locating on a map the 26 African nations represented at the 6th annual African Air Chiefs Symposium would be challenging for all but advanced geography students.

The air force chiefs — or their representatives — came from Angola, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Cote D’Ivoire, Uganda, Senegal, Seychelles and Mauritania, to name just a few.

Dressed in formal uniforms, with colors ranging from drab gray to bright blue, they arrived Monday morning at U.S. Air Forces in Europe–Air Forces Africa for the first air chiefs’ symposium to be held at Ramstein after a run of African-based venues.

The chiefs, along with their U.S. counterparts, will be discussing airlift, a capability some African countries have and others don’t; it’s one that everyone agrees is nothing short of essential on a continent where the tyranny of distance is more than just a cliche.

“Nothing makes me happier than to spend the week with airmen talking about air power,” Gen. Frank Gorenc, USAFE-AFAFRICA commander, said in opening remarks Monday.

Gorenc, in an interview with Stars and Stripes, said airlift covers the entire spectrum of air power operations, from humanitarian to full combat operations.

In Africa, “on a continent that’s limited in mobility — on the ground, in particular — the ability to do things from the air ... is critical.”

Holding the conference, he said, “is a success in itself. Many of these air chiefs are meeting each other for the first time.”

Building those relationships, officials said, allows African countries to pool resources, share information, training and even spare parts.

But the United States, which through USAFE-AFAFRICA pays for the chiefs’ travel to Germany, also stands to gain, Gorenc said.

“We do this because it’s in our national interest to continue to develop partnerships between our air forces that can be leveraged, not in two or three months when something happens, but overnight.”

Countries come to table with varying airlift resources. Several countries operate fleets of C-130s, while some fly very small Cessna-like aircraft, said Lt. Col. Chris Blackwell, USAFE-AFAFRICA branch chief of international affairs for Africa. There are “lots of Russian and Chinese aircraft in the mix, as well,” he said.

The chiefs all introduced themselves Monday, describing their backgrounds and education. Some studied in the United States; many trained in France. Some flew Russian fighters; others were helicopter pilots. Some officers spoke English; others French, with two translators providing interpretation of their remarks.

A more common thread seems to be the urgent concern about the growing threat of terrorism on the continent.

Col. Mohamed Lehreitani of Mauritania, who is co-hosting the symposium with Gorenc, pointed out the meeting comes after several high-profile terrorist attacks, including Paris, Brussels and Bamako, Mali.

It’s a reminder that “no region is safe from attacks and that no nation can handle this cancer all by itself,” he said, stressing the need to build relationships and share information to fight terrorism.

Blackwell has seen that sense of urgency to address terrorism grow firsthand in the three years since he started his current job, Back then, “all the focus was on Al Shabaab,” he said. “Since then, Boko Haram has come on in a very big way. And now it’s (Islamic State), as well.”

Improving airlift among African nations can be an effective counterterrorism tool, he said, for everything from resupply missions to peace-keeping operations.

“Getting troops to where they need to be instead of having land forces ... stood up all across the border, that’s not really an efficient way of utilizing your troops,” he said. With airpower, “we can move them to the hot spots as necessary,” he said. Transporting them “on the back of trucks is just not an effective way of doing it. Many of these countries, you’re talking days from the capital to get out to the border regions.”

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

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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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