Photo Credit: Sgt. Jesse Houk, 139th MPAD, Illinois Army National Guard
Malawi Defence Force (MDF) and U.S. military servicemembers officially kicked-off exercise MEDREACH 11, May 3, with an opening ceremony at the Kamuzu Barracks. The program brought the MDF shoulder to shoulder with the United States military in a symbolic display of the unity that has been created between the two forces.
Looking out at the joint formation of approximately 300 MDF and U.S. forces, Malawi Defence Force Commander Gen. Marko Chiziko said he appreciates the differences between the MDF and U.S. military and looks forward to the great exchange of information between the personnel working together in MEDREACH 11.
"Both the U.S. Military and the MDF are renowned for their professionalism and for being accountable to their citizens," said Chiziko. "This exercise is one of the positive steps to that noble goal and I wish to put that on the record."
MEDREACH 11 is a joint effort between the Malawi Defence Force and the United States military with an immediate focus on medical outreach to Malawi civilians, but an even greater focus on fostering a long-term relationship with the people of Malawi. It is expected that both the MDF and the U.S. Armed Forces, consisting of U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force components, will learn valuable lessons from one another.
"This day is the culmination of over a year and a half of discussions and planning by the Malawi Defence Force and the U.S. Africa Command," said Craig Anderson, U.S. acting deputy ambassador to Malawi. "I am very happy and very honored to be here today."
Expressing his pride in working the Malawi Defence Force and colleagues from the United States Department of Defense, Anderson directed his attention to the nearly 100 U.S. Soldiers and Airmen that traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to be a part of MEDREACH 11.
"That you are willing to do this is a testament to two of the attributes that mark us as Americans; the wiliness to help others and to stand by our friends," Anderson said. "The MDF is one of our finest partners on this continent. They deserve our best effort. I know that you will do everything possible to bring the highest credit upon yourselves and the United States of America during your time here in Malawi."
As Anderson and Chiziko marched onto the field and unfurled the exercise banner, Pfc. Chris M. Bakeman, a Fridley, Minn. native stood in formation eagerly awaiting the days ahead in the exercise.
"I am very excited to team up with the Malawi Defence Force," said Bakeman, a 21-year-old human resource specialist currently serving with the 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (MEB), the unit responsible for command and control of U.S. MEDREACH 11 participants.
Based in Chicago, the 404th MEB is responsible for providing logistical and operational support for all units supporting MEDREACH 11. The exercise is its first command and control mission under U.S. Army Africa, the Army Service Component Command that oversees and coordinates U.S. Army activities in Africa.
"I think some may come in with the idea that they are going to teach the Malawi Defence Force, but I think that's going to end up being entirely opposite," Bakeman said. "We are going to learn so much just by going back and forth with each other. I certainly hope that we will teach them many things, but they can teach us many things about their culture and how they do things as well."
Anderson said that while MEDREACH 11 is only officially 16 days in total, the connection and relationships built on the exercise will become a catalyst for future partnership between the Malawi Defense Force and the United States military.
"The people of Malawi are some of our staunchest friends," Anderson said. "Training exercises like MEDREACH 11 are excellent examples of the cooperation possible between our two militaries and our two nations as we work for a more peaceful, stable and prosperous world."
MEDREACH, a key program in the United States' efforts to partner with the Government of Malawi, is the latest in a series of exercises involving U.S. military forces and African partner militaries with the aim of establishing and developing military interoperability, regional relationships, synchronization of effort and capacity-building. The goal of MEDREACH 11 is to enhance U.S. and Malawi Defence Forces capabilities to work together and to increase the combined readiness of their medical forces to respond to humanitarian emergencies.