They successfully fought to overthrow repressive governments in their homelands. Now Maj. Agha Khalili of Afghanistan and Maj. Karuranga Gatete of Rwanda are sitting in classrooms with other foreign military officers and their U.S. Army colleagues at Fort Leavenworth.
"It is necessary to the Afghan officers to understand United States (military) doctrine and the U.S. military because they work together," Khalili said.
Rwanda's army is building its own doctrine, and it is borrowing ideas not only from the United States but also from other countries with well-developed military institutions, Gatete said.
"I hope what I'm gaining from here will be very useful for my armed forces and benefit Rwandan society," he said.
Khalili, 32, and Gatete, 41, are among 27 military students from 26 countries who have been studying since February at the fort's Command and General Staff College. They will graduate at the end of the year.
Several weeks ago, another group of 50 officers from 48 countries arrived. They have been visiting regional tourism sites and getting to know the area before beginning a year of classes in August.
Foreign officers generally make up about 10 percent of the annual class session, said Lt. Col. Teena Barber, public affairs officer for the CGSC. Each year, the U.S. State Department determines how many foreign officers can study in the United States. The Army decides what countries it wants represented, and each country selects the officers it sends.
"We absolutely get the top officers from every country that has ever sent individuals here," Barber said.
The CGSC educates and prepares intermediate level officers - mostly majors - in a wide range of areas, including interagency and multinational operations. What U.S. officers learn from studying with foreign officers is invaluable, Barber said.
"They provide a different perspective," she said. "It also spurs our intermediate level soldiers to learn a little about other cultures."
The price of liberation
When Gatete was born, his parents were Rwandan refugees in neighboring Uganda. They fled Rwanda after a revolt in 1959 when the Hutu tribal population overthrew the Tutsi tribal monarchy. More than 160,000 Tutsis fled the country.
Gatete said he grew up and was educated in Uganda. In 1990, he joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a rebel force composed mostly of Tutsi exiles. They invaded Rwanda and fought a two-year war until a peace accord led to a government power-sharing arrangement. In 1994, a plane carrying the Rwandan president was shot down. New fighting erupted. At least 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, were murdered in a genocide.
The RPF force that Gatete was with fought its way into the capital city of Kigali and overthrew the government.
"If the authorities in the country by then were unable or unwilling to stop the genocide, we had to take it upon ourselves, and that's exactly what we did," Gatete said.
The RPF then moved on to gain control of the rest of the country. "We never had time to celebrate," Gatete said.
The fighting left scars on Gatete's arms and head. Part of a finger is missing.
"It's called the price of liberating a country," he said. "I'm very lucky because I'm with you today. Most of my friends died. Others lost their whole limbs."
Gatete declines to say much about his tribal ancestry. "I strongly believe I am Rwandan," he said.
A lifetime of war
When the Taliban captured Afghanistan's capital city of Kabul in 1996, Khalili and opposing Northern Alliance forces gathered in the northern part of the country. They recaptured the country with the help of the United States after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. American and NATO forces are still in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, hunting al-Qaida and working with the Afghan army.
Afghanistan has made significant improvements since 2001, Khalili said. He said he thinks the insurgency is small. The biggest problems, he said, are along the border with Pakistan where al-Qaida is hiding.
"Right now, the situation in Afghanistan is good," he said.
While Khalili wants al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden dead or captured, he said there are other ways to combat his influence. Find his financial accounts and stop the flow of money, he said. Jobs and education opportunities must be offered to people, he said.
"Nobody likes Osama bin Laden," Khalili said. "The people follow him because he has money and provides for them."
Khalili grew up under Soviet occupation and the guerilla war against it by the Afghan mujahedeen. At age 16, he joined the mujahedeen, but the Soviets were gone by the end of 1989. At 19, he joined the Afghan army.
"All my life has been in a war - different wars," Khalili said.
Khalili said what he is learning at CGSC about doctrines and new technology will help in the Afghan war against insurgents and their tactics of suicide bombings, kidnappings and constant movement.
In Rwanda, so far there have been no signs of al-Qaida terrorists, Gatete said. But he said the possibility exists, and terrorist incidents have occurred in neighboring countries.
"Because we belong to the same region of growth, I think we have to be aware of what al-Qaida is doing so we don't get caught unaware," Gatete said.