Ghana engineer instructors visit North Dakota
September 27, 2011
GRAND FORKS, N.D., Sept. 27, 2011 -- Warrant Officer Class 1 Benjamin Afful grinned as he spun around in the turret of an Avenger Pedestal-Mounted Stinger System. The Ghanaian army officer had never been exposed to such a machine and was thoroughly enjoying seeing how it worked, spinning it back and forth to acquire "targets" on the screen.
It was just one brief stop during a whirlwind two-week trip to North Dakota for him and Sgt. Maj. Richard Kyere-Yeboah. The visit wraps up this afternoon with a short awards ceremony at Camp Grafton Training Center.
Afful serves as a combat engineering instructor for the Ghana armed forces and Kyere-Yeboah is a senior enlisted leader at the Engineer Training School in Accra, Ghana. After having hosted combat engineer instructors from the North Dakota National Guard earlier this year, the men were wrapping up the latter half of the exchange. It's all part of a robust partnership between North Dakota and Ghana that began in 2004 as part of the Department of Defense-sponsored State Partnership Program.
Sgt. 1st Class Paul Deegan and Sgt. 1st Class Tony Duben, worked to ensure the Ghanaian soldiers' visit was just as enriching as the trip they experienced in February. Deegan serves as the combat engineer Advanced Leaders Course manager at the 164th Regional Training Institute, where he instructs with Duben, the assistant course manager.
"I'd have to say I'm very impressed with the professionalism and especially the graciousness of not only the military personnel but the local people, as well," Deegan said after returning from Ghana. "I would love to visit again to interact with the engineers there."
While in Accra, Deegan and Duben assisted in instructing 32 students at Teshie Camp and took part in demolition exercises, which gave them the opportunity to experience different types of explosives used by the Ghana Army for their combat engineering tasks.
For the past two weeks, their Ghanaian counterparts have been able to experience the engineer school in North Dakota, where Army engineers from across the United States come to train, as well as other parts of the state. While in Grand Forks Wednesday, the soldiers had the opportunity to try out an Avenger used by the 1st Battalion, 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment based there as well as check out the Improved Moving Target Simulator, a domed virtual world that offers training in shoulder-fired Stinger missiles.
The highlights of the trip, however, involved the combat engineer instruction, including the weapons and demolition ranges at Camp Grafton Training Center, Devils Lake, N.D.
"I liked the demolition range, and the firing range was also interesting. It's my first time seeing such a range. It's very interesting," Kyere-Yeboah said of pop-up targets used for marksmanship practice at Camp Grafton. "We've seen a new way of doing certain things that we'll bring to Ghana."
Afful also found the demolition range interesting, saying that in Ghana they use British-style plastic explosives rather than the C4 and Bangalore torpedoes used by the U.S. engineers.
"It was interesting, how to initiate explosives. We use detonation cord. They also use detonation cord but they also have what they call MDI [modernized demolition initiators]. It's very easy to practice with," he said.
He also benefited from the training aids Duben and Deegan used and was anxious to bring back more information he could use to supplement his own instruction.
"Describing and talking about experience with Bangalore torpedoes will go a long way," he said. "We have an improvised one, but now with what I've seen, I think it will help me to use in teaching."
The mutual benefit of the exchange is typical of the many activities that North Dakota Guardsmen and Ghana armed forces members have taken part in this summer.
One area of focus has been peacekeeping operations, which is a familiar mission to both partners. In May and June, workshops in Ghana focused on the roles and responsibilities of both engineers and military police officers in peacekeeping operations.
In July, Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general, made his annual trip to the African country to not only meet face-to-face with key leaders in the partnership and further develop a plan for the future, but also to observe training the Guard's 814th Medical Company was taking part in there as part of MEDFLAG 11. His visit included meetings with the minister of defense, U.S. ambassador to Ghana, Ghana chief of defense staff and other Ghana armed forces leaders, the commandant of the Sekondi Naval Station, Ghana armed forces training areas and instructors, and leaders at the National Disaster Management Organization, which is similar to FEMA.
He also visited the Takarodi Polytechnic Institute representatives who then visited North Dakota's Bismarck State College last month to further explore an educational partnership.
Also in July, four North Dakota National Guard Service Member and Family Support representatives traveled to Ghana for a Family Readiness Group Workshop, and then members of the Ghana armed forces family support network -- called Magajia, or "leader of women" -- came back to the U.S. with them for the National Volunteer Conference in Louisville, Ky.
"Despite the differences in our cultures, we are much more alike than different," said Rob Keller, Service Member and Family Support director. "Military families share the same concerns regardless of where we live: separation due to deployment; the education and rearing of our children; financial hardships; and the challenges of living harmoniously under adverse conditions."
The partnership has spanned many realms that both forces have in common, from peacekeeping deployments to flood response to improving techniques behind the scenes, which was done during an August aviation maintenance workshop in Ghana.
"In fiscal year 2011 [October 2010 through September 2011], the North Dakota National Guard pinpointed our role in Ghana by nesting its objectives with AFRICOM [Africa Command] and taking a more strategic approach to its engagements," said Maj. Brock Larson, North Dakota's State Partnership Program director. "U.S. Africa Command is embracing the State Partnership Program, which adds a unique citizen-Soldier dynamic that the National Guard brings to their Military-to-Military engagement program. With seemingly endless opportunities to expand our program and the desire for our soldiers and airmen to participate, future years will prove as robust as ever."
The Guard continues to look forward to the future and further learning from one another's strengths and challenges. Among the workshops and exchanges planned for the coming fiscal year are a disaster management workshop, chaplain exchange, emergency operations center familiarization, flight and ground safety events and additional workshops and exchanges with engineer instructors, aviation maintenance personnel and military police.