LT DIXON: Welcome to the 11th episode of "On the Horizon: Navigating the European and African Theaters." In this episode, we will discuss Exercise Sea Breeze, Admiral Foggo's trip to Ghana, And the USNS Carson City's deployment to the Gulf of Guinea.
Admiral, it is good to be back from Ukraine, and here with you for our 11th episode.
ADM FOGGO: Hey, good to have you back, Lieutenant Dixon. And well done, up there in the Ukraine. I look forward to discussing your trip to the Black Sea and my trip to the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. And I've got a surprise today for you and our listeners.
I've invited two guests to join us today: my new Fleet Master Chief, Derrick “Wally” Walters, SEAL. He traveled to Ghana with me and we've got a lot to share together on the show today, on that trip.
And also, Logistics Specialist, First Class, Admed Tabsoba is our second guest. He was born in Kumasi, Ghana, and is now a member of the United States Navy and an American citizen. He traveled to his homeland of Ghana, and I think the listeners will look forward to hearing his thoughts about returning to his home country as a very successful U.S. Navy Sailor.
LT DIXON: Well, sir, I can't wait to hear about the trip to Ghana and from their perspective. But Sir, before we get to them, sir, I'd like to start off our podcast talking about Exercise Sea Breeze 2019, which has been conducted in the Black Sea since 1997.
As you know, this is an important exercise in a part of Europe where tensions are high. And so Sir, What can you tell us about this exercise and why is it so important?
ADM FOGGO: Yeah, Lieutenant Dixon, great question, because it's not just the exercise, but the Black Sea, writ large, is a very important body of water to us. And I remain concerned about Ukrainian and Russian interactions in the Black Sea.
So, we continue to patrol and we continue to have a presence there and we continue to try to maintain deterrence in the Black Sea for stability and security.
But to get back to your question about Sea Breeze, I think the exercise, like many others that we do out there, shows the value of working with our NATO allies and Black Sea partners who are NATO aspirants.
It's important to note that this is not the first time Ukraine and the United States Navy has hosted this exercise. In fact, this was the 19th iteration in which nations from the Black Sea and Europe participated in Sea Breeze.
More than 3,000 Sailors and Marines from 19 different nations executed real-world training opportunities and mission sets to hone the skills of our respective military forces in the literal domain of the Black Sea.
And during the planning phase, exercise planners worked on a motto that would be easy to remember and best represent the Black Sea and Exercise Sea Breeze.
And it was simple, "Friendship.” Friendship is an incredibly appropriate motto because it conveys what took place in 2019, as well as what's been happening since 1997.
Along with friendship goes engagement. So I asked Vice Admiral Lisa Franchetti to represent us up there for Naval Forces Europe. And she went in her Sixth Fleet hat, and actually met the new president of Ukraine, President Zelensky.
And also importantly, Admiral Franchetti met family members of the Ukrainian Sailors who are being detained by the Russians after the Sea of Azov incident. And she heard their stories and concerns.
LT DIXON: And Admiral if I may, as you know, NATO had a big role in Sea Breeze 2019 as this was the first time that a Standing NATO Maritime Group took part in the exercise. What is the importance of having NATO a part of the exercise?
FOGGO: So like I said before, what makes NATO unique is that we don't seek to take sovereign territory in any kind of offensive operations. We don't impede the free flow of shipping in international waters.
We defend the sovereign territory of our alliance members, and we protect sea lines of communication and freedom of navigation and freedom of the seas.
So our presence there is to deter any aggressors who seek to take land or disrupt maritime traffic in international waters. And that's what Sea Breeze and other exercises like it are all about.
So as an example, if somebody were to look around during the planning meetings in Kiev, the Maritime Operations Center in Odessa and out in the operating areas in the Black Sea, they'd see service members from the Ukraine, Georgia, Turkey, Moldova, Romania and Bulgaria, which are all Black Sea regional nations, along with NATO, partners and allies.
A lot of friends in one place, especially in the Black Sea, which, you know, is a self-contained body of water that communicates with the Mediterranean through the Bosporus.
LT DIXON: And, Admiral, out of curiosity, what did you think of this year's exercise compared to previous years?
ADM FOGGO: Well, Lieutenant Dixon, I've been stationed in Europe several times during the course of my career. And stability and security in the Black Sea has never been more important over the last two decades than today.
There is tension in the region. And in this area of great power competition, our naval forces, along with allies and partners, are committed to the principle of freedom of navigation for all countries, which provides the necessary conditions for global maritime trade to flow freely and benefit all the nations of the Black Sea, and likewise, the Mediterranean. So we provide a credible deterrence that guarantees security and stability.
I've seen the exercise grow in terms of size and capacity. And it's like every one of our exercises. We haven't grown as much as a staff, but we have taken on a lot of additional responsibility.
This year, 19 nations sent 32 ships, 24 aircraft and 3,000 Sailors and Marines to exercise Sea Breeze. I think that's a record, showing the regional dedication of not just the Black Sea nations but our NATO partners and allies.
So overall, I think this exercise was a huge success in 2019.
LT DIXON: Thank you, sir, a lot of great stuff happening in the Black Sea and exercise Sea Breeze. Shifting gears to your U.S. Naval Forces hat, what can you tell us about your recent trip to Ghana and what the U.S. Navy's been doing in and around the Gulf of Guinea?
ADM FOGGO: Well, Lieutenant Dixon, thank you and I had a great visit to Ghana. I went to the capital of Accra, Ghana and to the port facility of Sekondi, Ghana to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Ghana Navy with our Gulf of Guinea, African and European partners.
I spent time down in Sekondi in the port and I had an opportunity to visit Nigerian ships, Ghanaian patrol craft, see their ship building and repair facilities, their dry dock, and also go on board the USNS Carson City, one of our expeditionary patrol frigates that we sent on deployment this summer to five different West African ports in order to conduct Africa Partnership Station missions along with Italian, Spanish and Portuguese counterparts and members of the United States Coast Guard, who were on board the ship for these visits to conduct comparison of best practices, training and maintenance.
So it was an awesome experience, I received one of the most humbling compliments at the International Maritime Defense Exhibition and Conference, which was held on day two of my visit, where Admiral Seth Amoama, who's a great friend and a wonderful leader in the region, and asked the crowd, “Well Foggo has been doing this for about 10 years and so that makes him one of us.”
I took that as a great compliment because I have been involved in the Africa Partnership Station since 2010 when I was a one star and the operations officer here and it's gotten progressively better and more sophisticated and I really enjoyed my time as Sixth Fleet Commander and participating in all of the express series exercises in the East Coast and the Maghreb and the West Coast of Africa.
And so that compliment went right to the heart. So when I sat down at the table with Admiral Amoama and the Ghanaian Chief of the Defense Staff, they both looked at me and said, "Well, if you are one of us, Foggo, then you must have an African name." I said, "OK."
They said, "What day were you born on?" And I had to look it up on Google. September 2nd, 1959, happens to be a Wednesday. And oh, by the way, I celebrate my own 60th birthday on the 60th anniversary of the Ghanaian navy, so there was some commonality there.
And they said, "OK. If you're born on a Wednesday, then we re-baptize you, 'Kwaku'." And I said, "Well, what does that mean?"
They said, "It’s a man who was born on a Wednesday." And I was really touched by that, because it is all about friendship and relationships, and I think we've established that down there.
LT DIXON: And Admiral on that note, what do the people in the Gulf of Guinea think about us?
ADM FOGGO: Well Lt. Dixon, the African nations really want the United States to be engaged on the continent and in its waterways. And I think our ability to connect through the presence of USNS Carson City and the Coast Guard cutter Thetis earlier this summer, really speaks to the power of relationships and the power of U.S. naval and Coast Guard presence in the Gulf of Guinea.
So, Ghana's an important partner for the United States. And they're very pro-American down there, and they're very capable and they do a great job in their navy. And they have seamless integration between the land and the sea and the air.
The chief of defense General Akwa, I mentioned he's an army guy, but he's fully supportive of the navy and the air force and they truly do have a joint force.
And for me, that was terrific to see because that's very, very important.
It's got to be an integrated fight in the maritime domain, the land domain and in the air, in order to secure all of these borders so that there can be stability, security and economic prosperity.
LT DIXON: And Admiral, as we have talked about in the past, what would you say is the “why” of this whole discussion? Why should the U.S. Navy continue to invest time, money, and resources in Africa?
ADM FOGGO: To understand the importance of why we do what we do down there, you kind of have to look at some statistics in Africa. There's 54 countries on the continent, but 38 of them are coastal nations.
So we've got to ensure that we bring stability and security so that there can be economic prosperity, so that those young people can find a job, get educated and find a job and use their education in a very productive way, to stimulate the well-being and the greater good of all of Africa. And for the future to be positive.
We're working with African countries, not just in the Gulf of Guinea but in the north and in the east as well, to provide best practices on good governance and rule of law at sea. So I would say that the maritime countries in the region have strong and professional navies and coast guards and law enforcement institutions.
They can help one another, and we could help them provide for security so that maritime trade can flourish.
One of the things that I asked the Ghanaians and the Nigerians to help me with, was to bring South Africa into the fold as well. So, we have reached out, many times, to the South Africans, who have a very capable and a very powerful and a very well-resourced navy, to ask for their participation in the future of Obangame Express.
And I'm delighted to tell you that at the 60th anniversary of the Ghanaian navy, Admiral Amawama announced that Ghana would be the lead nation for Obangame Express in 2020. And I look forward to going down there and celebrating that with him again.
LT DIXON: And Admiral, bringing it back to the Carson City which you talked about earlier, what can you tell us about what they have been doing for African Partnership Station? And Sir, what are some of the highlights you can share with us?
ADM FOGGO: If you look at some highlights from the deployment of the Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport ship, USNS Carson City, it arrived in Sekondi, Ghana, on the 21st of July, so it's been participating in the Africa Partnership Station, which has been going on for a decade now.
So if I gave you some statistics on the success of the port visits during the Gulf of Guinea deployment with the USNS Carson City, I would tell you that while we were in Senegal, we actually repaired one patrol craft so we could get it back out to sea, four in Cote d'Ivoire, one patrol craft metal hull and three rigid hull inflatable boats.
And while in Sekondi, I saw our engine men and our Seabees fixing one of our old Defender boats that we sold them a while back that had some freshwater cooling problems.
So not only did we share best practices but we found root causes to problem and then we were able to help the Ghanaians to actually work through it so they could get that craft back to sea.
We had a legal detachment on board the Carson City, some Coast Guard personnel, four U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadets. This is what they're going to do when they get to graduation and out in the fleet as ensigns.
So we trained our African partners on boarding teams, we had a Portuguese specialist on vertical boarding, search, and seizure, how you come down on a ship and you can either go up a ladder or come off a helicopter onto a ship that may be a compliant or noncompliant boarding and then determine whether or not there's any illegal activity going on.
We were joined by an Italian naval officer to assist us in training and we had boarding team members from the African nations listening and learning and then practicing their procedures in port and at sea.
Additionally, we had medical personnel embarked on the Carson City. I call it a “Doc in a Box” but it wasn't actually practicing medicine, it was our people with skill sets who were sharing best practices with those African nations who had small hospitals or clinics throughout the five port visits.
So, they did several engagements on women's health, family medicine and emergency medicine.
We did community relations. We have several members of our Chaplain Corps and guest chaplains that were on board and in each of the stops, they looked for an opportunity to go to a school or an orphanage, spend some time in some fellowship, take the band typically with them and enjoy time with the children and then give out some things that are enduring gifts.
For instance, basketballs, they're setting up a basketball hoop so they can enjoy a little NBA time down in the coastal nations of West Africa.
And finally, the band, the band brings us all together. I saw the Ghanaian band when I was in Accra and Sekondi. They're great, they love to do Aretha Franklin, which is, you know, one of my favorite artists and they do it extremely well.
Our band did six performances in Senegal, 10 performances in Cote d'Ivoire, five performances in Ghana. And when the bands start to play, there's just kind of a warm feeling in the room of friendship and camaraderie.
Like I said, music brings us together and it's something that we all have in common.
Overall, I think all five of the visits are really friendship and practice and it's countries coming together to help one another. And the one thing we only ask in return from our African partners is friendship.
LT DIXON: Admiral, you mentioned at the beginning that we had guest for the first time for our podcast. Sitting with us here now, is LS1 Ahmed Tabsoba and Fleet Master Chief Derrick Walters. Gentlemen, welcome to the show.
FLEET WALTERS: Great to be here.
LS1 TABSOBA: Thank you for having us.
LT DIXON: Now LS1, tell us a little bit about yourself.
LS1 TABSOBA: First of all, thank Admiral for giving me this opportunity to travel with him and thank Fleet Master Chief and my appreciation to you too.
It was very, very, very great going with the Admiral. I was born in Kumasi in Ashanty region and I stayed all my life in Kumasi for like 24 years before traveling to the state.
And I finished university in 2010, traveled to United States in 2011 and I joined right away because as soon as I came, I started reading about it and I couldn't help it, I loved it.
So it was a great experience and I've been in the Navy for almost seven years and I love it, I really loved joining it.
LT DIXON: Wow, that's an incredible story and thank you so much for joining us. How is it back being in Ghana? What can you tell us about your trip?
LS1 TABSOBA: So my trip to Ghana was very exciting, I made a lot of interviews with local stations. I had four interviews with four different stations and actually two of them were in our local language and the other two was in English.
I didn't even know until the next morning, my sister showed me a video with myself talking, I'm like oh, I didn't know this was coming so it was very exciting and I had a lot of phone calls, like hey, we saw you on TV, we saw you this and basically, they were asking questions about like how we do, how the Navy helped me out, where I came from and where I am right now and it was very great.
And sitting with the Admiral, with our Minister of Defense, and what he said is really, really great because if the person doesn't like you, he will not use those words or he may mention, give the Admiral a name, (African name), and he added an answer to it, so (Kwaku) we consider that man to be the greatest man and the wisest man on Earth.
So that's all Ghanaians know, so if the Minister of Defense says the Admiral is (Kwaku), I was really excited when he said that so that gave us an opportunity to actually extend our partnership with Ghana.
ADM FOGGO: Hey, so Lieutenant Dixon, if I may, LS1 Ahmed Tabsoba is one of the best Sailors that I've worked with here. I just pinned First Class on him here a couple of months ago and, you know, like he said, joined the Navy in 2011, a very short period of time for him to get to the point of being a leader and an LPO and E6.
I fully expect that he'll be a Chief Petty Officer and I hope a Master Chief Petty Officer and even an LDO one of these days. He's a great credit to his home nation and I was delighted to take him along with me when we met Defense Minister Nitiwul and we'll talk about that in a minute or so.
But I want to give Fleet Master Chief Walters a chance to also talk about his trip down there and how fulfilling it was for him.
FLEET WALTERS: Thank you, sir, it's great to join the Admiral, Lieutenant Dixon, and to be here with the superstar of the visit, LS1 Tabsoba. Having just joined the Navy Europe Africa team, I can say that in my short time I've come to appreciate how demanding and dynamic our environment is, and yet the work and the missions are getting accomplished throughout the area of operation, thanks in large part to your leadership, Admiral, and to the hard work of our Sailors and Marines.
LT DIXON: Wow, that is so true. You know, our Sailors and Marines work very hard throughout the theater and I'm sure they were glad to see you out in the field. What did you think of your trip and was it your first time you’ve been to Africa?
FLEET WALTERS: It was my first time to Ghana but not my first time to the continent. I've had the pleasure of spending operational time in Liberia, Somalia and Djibouti. With regards to the trip, I was blown away by the enthusiasm and professionalism of our Sailors supporting the African partnership station deployment.
Three particular interactions I want to highlight. First was the time spent with the small boat maintenance team that were assisting our partners in diagnosing an outboard motor problem on one of their Defender patrol vessels.
After tearing the motor apart, they were able to identify the problem and make the repairs, but what struck me during our conversation with them was their eagerness to help and get the job done.
Second, the time spent with members from the 133rd Seabees Battalion, otherwise known as the run and ruse. These hardworking Sailors were responsible for generating freshwater for the Carson City while in port.
With just a handful of Seabees working continuously, they were able to generate 9,000 gallons of freshwater every day in order to sustain the ship's crew. They, too, were just so upbeat and excited to be a part of the African partnership station deployment.
They couldn't help but feel pride to be a U.S. Sailor.
Third, but just as important was the time spent talking to the expeditionary security team sent from NECC to assist with the in-port security.
Under pretty demanding weather conditions, these true professionals, without hesitation, donned their protective vests and associated gear day in and day out and not once mentioned nor complained, but rather talked about the importance of what they were doing in mission accomplishment.
I think they've done a phenomenal job and I was quite proud of everyone that was part of the mission.
LT DIXON: Wow, that was great to hear and glad you enjoyed your time. Sir, did you have anything before we close this segment out? Anything you want to add or discuss about your trip to Ghana?
ADM FOGGO: Yeah, it was just an absolutely terrific event. We crammed a lot into really two and a half days and, you know, I look forward to going back for Obangame Express. It was the Fleet's first opportunity to come to Africa with me.
So, it was great to have you Fleet and I think Sailors love talking to somebody who's willing to take the time to talk to them and he certainly is and I saw him.
He's magnetic on the waterfront, everybody wanted to come up and share their adventures with him.
And as for LS1 Tabsoba, also as Fleet said, the superstar of the visit, you know, a young man who came from Ghana, who joined the United States Navy for a number of reasons: one, an education; two, a career; and, three, to become an American citizen.
I think he is just an outstanding ambassador for his country, and he represents what is great about our Navy, and that is diversity.
When I took him in to see the defense minister, Defense Minister Nitiwul, I had never met the gentleman before.
And so Petty Officer Tabsoba was kind of the icebreaker for us. And when I introduced him to Minister Nitiwul, I told him about Tabsoba's career and his success to date. He just lit up. And he kind of relaxed. And then we had a conversation. It was not talking points, it was a conversation.
And what he said was, "Thank you very much for bringing a successful Ghanaian citizen to see me, and one who has become an American but still has Ghana in his heart." And he goes, "The reason that's important is because I like to hear stories like this about the people of Ghana who go out in the world and become successful."
And he brought up one other story, which is a tragic story and one which I think the listeners are probably familiar with. And that was Private Emmanuel Mensah, who emigrated from Ghana and lived in New York City.
During his time in New York City, he enlisted in the New York Army National Guard. And last December 2018, you probably remember reading the headlines.
This young man died, trying to save people from a burning apartment building in the Bronx. He saved four people and he didn't come out of the building on his last try. He was 26 years old.
He is a great credit to the country of Ghana, to the New York Army National Guard, and to his dream, which Petty Officer Tabsoba is living vicariously through him and for him, as an American citizen in the United States Navy.
So, it's important that we articulate our diversity and that we show the nations of Africa and other nations in the world that we have people who come from their countries, who become Americans and who participate in their security, ultimately.
One other officer that was down with us, during this tour, was Lieutenant Linda Imogene. You’ve covered, Lieutenant Dixon, here story on Voice of America. Linda's from Togo. She's worked for me for two years. She was a former chief, she became an LDO. She speaks fluent French.
And while she was there during this deployment, not only did she assist with parts support, logistics support, food and supplies for the ship, but she also went out in the community and let them know her story and how she came from Togo to the United States, it's a great story.
I'd encourage you to get online and see it on our website.
So, I'm really proud of all these people and I'm proud of Carson City. I'm proud of the work that our team here has done in the Africa Partnership Station, and I look forward to many future likewise exercises.
LT DIXON: Well, Admiral, what an incredible story. And it sounds like a very successful trip and a fun time had by all as well. Fleet, LS1, thank you so much for joining us. It was super awesome to have you.
For the Gulf of Guinea is certainly important, so hearing about your experiences in Ghana really brought this trip alive for me, having not gone, and I think for our audience as well.
Thank you again for joining us today.
And Admiral, as always, thank you for sharing your thoughts about the Ukraine, the Black Sea and the great progress being made in the Gulf of Guinea. As always, Sir, thank you for your time.
ADM FOGGO: Hey, Bobby, thanks a lot. And we look forward to seeing next time.
LT DIXON: “We hope you have enjoyed this episode of “On the Horizon; Navigating the European and African Theaters.” Please share the Podcast with your friends and family. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.
Join us next time to hear more about what the U.S. Navy is doing throughout Europe and Africa. Until next time, thank you.