CAMP GRAYLING JOINT MANEUVER TRAINING CENTER, Mich. - A visit to Northern Michigan by Brig. Gen. Daniel D. Ziankhan, Jr., the senior military officer of the African nation of Liberia, has helped to strengthen and deepen the ongoing partnership between the Michigan National Guard and the Armed Forces of Liberia.
Ziankahn spent three days in Michigan in early August, touring the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center with Michigan’s top general, Maj. Gen. Gregory J. Vadnais, and other senior leaders of the Michigan National Guard.
Since 2009, Michigan and Liberia have been partners under the U.S. National Guard’s State Partnership Program. The August visit to Camp Grayling by Ziankahn was the first time a chief of staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia has been to Michigan.
“Partnerships and relationships grow over time,” said Vadnais, the adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard and director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “Brig. Gen. Ziankahn’s visit to Camp Grayling represents the partnership between Michigan and Liberia moving to a new level.”
Ziankahn was joined on the trip to Michigan by the ALF’s command sergeant major, Cooper Manqueh, and an aide.
Traveling with Vadnais, the Liberian contingent toured a number of the training ranges at CGMJT, the largest National Guard training facility in the nation. Of particular interest on the visit was a counter-improvised explosive device training facility that exists at Camp Grayling. As the two generals toured the facility, they discussed ideas and plans for building a similar facility in Liberia to allow for the training of Liberian soldiers.
“The partnership is beneficial to us in many ways,” Ziankahn said, standing in a mock village at Camp Grayling where American soldiers learn how to deal with IED threats. “For several years, we have had mentor relationships. As an example, I had a mentor as a partner when I was a brigade commander and was able to talk about ideas and challenges with him.”
“Now, we are looking at ways to expand and grow our partnership by working together in other ways, such as sharing ideas about a training center,” Ziankahn said.
Another major stop during the Camp Grayling visit was a trip to the Post Exchange, the small convenience store on the camp which is operated by the Army-Air Force Exchange Service. Manqueh, the ALF command sergeant major, said Liberian leaders are exploring developing a similar concept of an organized market on the Edward Binyah Kesselly Barracks camp in Liberia, popularly known as EBK, which serves as the primary military training center in the country.
Participating in the visit to Camp Grayling were the current and next commanders of Operation Onward Liberty, Col. Steve Potter and Col. Shawn Harris, both officers in the Michigan Army National Guard. OOL is a combined initiative of the U.S. Departments of State and Defense designed to bolster relations between the U.S. and Liberia. As part of OOL, more than a dozen Michigan National Guard Soldiers spend about a year deployed to Liberia where they are assigned to work directly with Liberian soldiers in their same career fields: medics with medics, military police with military police, etc.
Following the visit, Potter and Harris discussed the possibility of Michigan Army National Guard engineers working with ALF engineers to build the training center.
“To have this level of advance coordination with the existing commander and the 2016 commander of OOL is unprecedented,” said Potter. “For Brig. Gen. Ziankahn to get eyes on the facilities here moves the planning process ahead significantly.”
Liberia is one of two nations that Michigan is aligned with under the National Guard State Partnership Program. The partnership with Liberia began in 2009. Michigan is also joined with the Baltic nation of Latvia under the SPP. In fact, the state recently marked its 21st year of partnership with Latvia. Exchanges between the state and Latvian military personnel often take place – in both directions. Latvian soldiers served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom and frequently train alongside Michigan military personnel at both Camp Grayling and the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center. Latvia also serves as the host of an annual exercise in which Michigan Guard personnel participate.
Ziankahn’s visit to Camp Grayling fell in between two of the largest training exercises of year held at the sprawling military complex. Northern Strike 15, which ran July 13 – Aug. 1, is the camp’s largest combined live-fire exercise, featuring Michigan National Guard troops joined by other states’ National Guard units, an active Army unit, and military members from coalition countries, Latvia, Poland, Australia and Canada. The second-largest exercise, which kicked off the day after Ziankahn left, is the eXportable Combat Training Capability (XCTC) exercise, which includes active duty and National Guard Soldiers from around the country. In all, some 24,000 military personnel will have participated in training at CGJMTC during the summer months of 2015.