NEW YORK, N.Y. -- Thirty-seven New York Army National Guard logistics specialists from the 369th Sustainment Brigade will be heading to the African nation of Mali in February as part of exercise Atlas Accord 12.

The Soldiers from the Harlem-based brigade will be providing support to American and Malian military forces participating in a joint coalition training exercise and also serve as trainers for their Malian Defense Force counterparts.

The commander of the 369th, Col. Reginald Sanders, will serve as the American co-commander of Task Force Atlas, along with Malian Col. Coulibaly, and also serve as deputy exercise director.

"This is huge," said Warrant Officer Michele DiGeso, the personnel officer for the 369th. "For the brigade to be able to provide command and control for a joint task force, it is a major step for us," DiGeso explained. "This is a big stepping stone as far as our operations go."

"Each of the Soldiers of the 369th will enjoy a very challenging and rewarding training event in an environment that they may someday need to function in," Sanders said. "This is a great way to get training with our Africa Command and NATO coalition partner nations."

The 400 Malian Defense Force members and 125 Americans participating in Atlas Accord will focus on training in logistics command and control, air drop preparation and helicopter resupply. The New York Soldiers will be on the ground in Sevare, Mali from Feb. 1 to Feb 17.

The 369th Soldiers will be working under the control of United States Army Africa and alongside Air Force units as well.

"It is a challenge because you are working in an environment with many contractors, there is a language barrier, and it is a very undeveloped type of region," DiGeso said.

The official language of Mali is French and the main spoken language is Bambara, which is a tribal language spoken by 80 percent of the people. But there are 50 other dialects and tribal languages spoken in the country.

Keeping Soldiers healthy in this kind of environment will be a major challenge, Sanders said. The country is known for Malaria and other health risks.

The brigade has developed an aggressive health and safety plan for the Soldiers. The 807th Medical Team is providing support for the mission and has already inspected the Soldiers living areas and tested cooking areas and water supplies, Sanders explained.

The Soldiers going on the mission were selected by their first line supervisors based on their proven abilities and their potential, Sanders said.

"In some cases the command wanted to give some junior officers and subject matter experts an oportunity to show us their potential," Sanders said.

Many of the Soldiers have deployed overseas before, including a mission to Malaysia as well as combat rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan so they are used to dealing with cultural differences, Sanders said. The 369th Soldiers also went through Malian cultural training conducted by a team from Fort Huachuca.

Ensuring that the Task Force Soldiers are culturally aware is a key part of the preparation, Sanders said.

The United States is competing for influence with China in this part of the world and American Soldiers need to make a good impression, he said.

While the 369th's part of the exercise doesn't start until February, Soldiers from Mali began training for their part in Atlas Accord in December during a visit to West Virginia. Twenty-five Malian Defense Force members from the 33rd Parachute Infantry Regiment who will be part of the operations in their country trained on air drop resupply with Special Forces and quartermaster Soldiers from the West Virginia Army National Guard.

Page last updated Tue January 24th, 2012 at 20:00