The U.S. Navy: Bringing Aid and Rock to Africa

Written by Michael McLean, Public Diplomacy graduate student,                      Syracuse University


Rocking out isn’t exactly what one thinks about when they envision the U.S. Navy. However, that is exactly what I experienced when the HSV-2 Swift, a U.S. Navy hybrid catamaran vessel, visited Maputo, Mozambique where I am doing a summer internship with the U.S. Embassy. The Swift is on a humanitarian mission as part of the African Partnership Station, delivering books, wheelchairs, medical supplies, and other items at each port it visits. The crew further contributed to this mission by giving blood and helping rebuild an orphanage. The Swift also has some unique crewmembers, tasked with a more musical mission.

The U.S. Navy band “Flagship” is a far cry from the Navy bands I remember seeing as a child when my dad was in the Marine Corps. Transformed from the traditional brass and marching bands, “Flagship” is a modern rock/pop band, playing everything from Adele to Jimi Hendrix. Band members are like any other sailors on the Swift, but instead of being responsible for typical duties, they are responsible for rocking out and entertaining foreign audiences.

I had the opportunity to see “Flagship” play several times while they were in Maputo and every time people were on their feet dancing; Mozambicans and Americans. Even the Ambassador got down when they were playing a reception at her residence. During the Swift’s weeklong visit to Maputo, “Flagship” played at over 10 different events including classrooms, receptions, and “jam sessions” with local musicians.

During the Swift’s visit I toured the ship a number of times, escorting diplomats from other foreign missions in Maputo. On the tours I assisted with, there was Italian, Finish, Canadian, and British diplomats, just to name a few. These tours allowed participants to see the good work that the Swift and the U.S. Navy are doing in Mozambique and in Africa. One of my tours had the opportunity to watch the graduation ceremony of almost 30 Mozambican military and port security officials, trained by U.S. NCIS agents on everything from port security to basic infantry and medical skills. Another group was able to enjoy band practice on the ship’s flight deck.

“Flagship” and the HSV-2 Swift are examples of U.S. public diplomacy in action and how the U.S. military is leading the way in opening the lines of communication with foreign publics. Not only did the Swift’s visit produce tangible benefits like delivering aid and rebuilding an orphanage, it also contributed to long-term relationship building between the United States and Mozambique. After leaving Maputo, the Swift spent five days in Nacala in northern Mozambique before continuing on the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Top photograph credit given to “U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kristopher Regan”

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