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Top enlisted National Guard leader visits Djibouti

By Master Sgt. Amanda Currier | Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa | Jan. 23, 2019

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti – The command sergeant major of the National Guard Bureau, U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Kepner, visited Army and Air National Guard members working for the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa from Jan. 15-19.

Kepner often travels to different military installations across the globe to see firsthand how Guard members are doing and to get a close look at their various missions.

He takes what he learns back to the National Guard Bureau chief, and to senior enlisted leaders from other U.S. military services, which is what he plans to do with the information he gained while visiting Djibouti.

"I'm going to talk to the boss about the mission the Guard is doing here to make sure he has a good understanding of that," Kepner said. "I do believe that this is a mission that the Guard should continue to advocate for."

CJTF-HOA's main priorities are strengthening regional military relationships, enhancing the capabilities of partner nations, conducting theater security cooperation activities, enabling freedom of movement within East Africa, and providing regional crisis response.

"Right here in Djibouti, this is really a key area, and our Guardsmen are particularly well-suited for the mission," Kepner said. "When you think about the Guard, our competitive advantage is our Citizen-Soldiers and our Citizen-Airmen."

Guard members typically hold civilian jobs in addition to their military careers. Those jobs may or may not be related to their military roles. The experience Guard personnel get from their civilian jobs adds breadth to their skill sets.

"When you talk about building relationships interacting with other people, interacting with foreign nationals, or with other services, because of their civilian careers, many of them really excel at that," Kepner said.

Of the nearly 2,000 service members assigned to CJTF-HOA, 43 percent of them are National Guard members, many of whom provide emergency response and security functions for Camp Lemonnier and a nearby U.S.-run military airfield, which the sergeant major also visited.

The sergeant major toured the camp and the airfield, and spoke with several Guardsmen about the day-to-day work they do. He also held two mass meetings for enlisted Guardsmen, one at Camp Lemonnier and one at the airfield.

"This was about talking to Soldiers and talking to Airmen and thanking them for the job that they're doing and trying to see if there are issues to solve," Kepner said.

During the meetings, Kepner expressed how impressed he was with the work the Guard members deployed here are doing. He also discussed professional development and benefits initiatives. He also encouraged questions.

"I think it went well, and I think that a lot of Soldiers were able to ask the question they wanted to," said U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Johnson, a National Guardsman assigned to Charlie Company, 1-141 Infantry Regiment, Task Force Alamo, CJTF-HOA. "I think he was open to letting Soldiers interact with him."

Kepner topped off the meeting at Camp Lemonnier by promoting two Soldiers to the rank of specialist.

"I think those guys will remember that promotion over any other promotion they ever get," Johnson said.