'Peace Garden State' Guardsmen complete Cameroon exercise

FARGO, N.D. (Army News Service, March 14, 2013) — Nearly 40 North Dakota National Guard members who took part in a U.S. Army Africa exercise in Cameroon are back home as their Central African military counterparts develop follow-on plans for using their newly learned skills.

The exercise, Central Accord 13, partnered Cameroon’s military with about 160 U.S. service members, as well as service members of five other nations in Central Africa to enhance aerial delivery as well as patient treatment and evacuation.

North Dakota’s contingent served as the command and control element for the exercise, which Guardsmen spent months prepping for alongside others from across the U.S., Europe and Africa. Two liaison officers, Capt. Travis Hackey, of West Fargo, N.D., and 1st Sgt. Bruce Newland, of Grand Forks, N.D., arrived in Douala, Cameroon, Jan. 10, as preparations increased. The remainder of the North Dakota Guardsmen, who primarily serve with the Valley City-based 231st Brigade Support Battalion, arrived in mid-February.

Cameroon soliders in formation

Cameroon soliders in formation

“It was rewarding to see our Central African partners acquire new skills to enhance their operational capacity for responding to not only natural disasters but for ensuring peace and stability as they work together in their region,” said Col. Giselle Wilz, of Bismarck, N.D., who serves as the Task Force Central commander.

“It was also great to see how our North Dakota Guardsmen came together to provide all of the logistical, administrative, security and communications support needed for an exercise of this scope. Not only did they do a fantastic job, but the lessons learned in planning and conducting an exercise such as this will benefit our state during future missions.”

The 10-day exercise officially kicked off with a Feb. 20 opening ceremony, which led right into instruction from U.S. service members on preparing aerial delivery packages, establishing drop zones, providing emergency medical treatment, and evacuating wounded and injured people via Cameroon air assets. The academic portion quickly progressed to practical exercises and then a three-day field training exercise during which the Cameroon Defense Forces made its first-ever aerial delivery from a C-130 transport plane.

Cameroon Army Lt. Col. Egbe Ado, chief of staff at the Cameroon Army Engineer Base near Douala, commended the U.S. military’s “pedagogic way of transmitting knowledge,” which enabled such an accomplishment to occur so quickly.

The new ways of using their existing airframes, two rotary-wing aircraft in addition to the C-130, will help the military better fulfill their missions, said Col. Bede Benoit Eba Eba, deputy chief of the Cameroon Air Force staff, who spoke of how difficult it was to respond quickly when devastating floods hit northern Cameroon in September.

The country’s varying terrain, from coastal plains to mountains, and barely navigable roadways in some areas added to the mission response time for the forces.

“It was very rewarding personally to see the enthusiasm displayed by all participants throughout the exercise,” said Lt. Col. Ed Johnson, of Devils Lake, Task Force Central deputy commander and 231st battalion commander. “The transformation of the Cameroon Defense Forces from the beginning of the academics phase to the final day of the FTX was simply incredible. With only a few days of academics, the Cameroon Defense Forces applied their newly acquired skills during the FTX and performed their tasks flawlessly.”

During the March 1 closing ceremony, the Central African militaries demonstrated those new skills for senior leaders from Cameroon and the U.S., including Gen. Carter Ham, U.S. Africa Command commander, Robert Jackson, U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Cameroon, Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general, and Brig. Gen. Peter Corey, U.S. Army Africa deputy commander.

Formerly known as Atlas Accord and Atlas Drop, U.S. Army Africa initiated the annual exercise in 1996 to enhance military interoperability, providing an opportunity for African militaries to achieve new goals while giving U.S. forces the opportunity to improve their abilities in training and operating with foreign militaries.