FORT RILEY, Kan. (May 22, 2013) -- Soldiers with 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team "Dagger," 1st Infantry Division, have known about their regional alignment with the continent of Africa for a while now, but that doesn't mean the excitement of the unique mission-set has worn off, especially with some Soldiers having gone and come back after successfully completing their mission.
"All of it has been very positive so far," said Col. Jeffery Broadwater, commander of 2nd ABCT. "The countries that we've been in, the [host nation security force] Soldiers have been very positive and really appreciated the support and classes we were instructing. We've got great rapport-building, and I think we've probably made some lifelong friendships along the way."
One of the major components of preparing Dagger Soldiers for their various missions, which can range in scale from a handful of Soldiers instructing a specific skill -- say, basic rifle marksmanship -- to a company- or larger-size formation for a partnered training exercise, is a group of courses called "Dagger University."
The brigade has run one full six-day course already, in early April, and is currently engaged in another iteration. It plans to offer the course on roughly a monthly basis, Broadwater said.
While the first day of the course is largely passive, classroom learning, the remainder of the time is spent with experts on specific countries as well as African natives from within the brigade who offer advice on culture and language that deploying Soldiers will need during their time on the continent.
"I think one key element for the Dagger University was we took Soldiers that are from Africa that are in the Army, and they came and taught us their culture and social perspective, the do's and don't's in their specific regions," said First Sgt. Douglas Whittaker, senior enlisted adviser with Company A, 299th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd ABCT, who recently conducted a logistics training and advisory mission in Sierra Leone. "That helped all of us out."
Getting some practice in before actually interacting with host nation security forces is one of the reasons for the presence of these role players.
"We're helping to make the deploying Soldiers feel comfortable," said Pfc. Cyprien Mpang, a driver with Company D, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd ABCT, and a native of Cameroon who has helped as a role player during the final days of Dagger University. "They shouldn't get there and be surprised and say, 'Hey, this is not what we were taught.'"
Mpang is one of several Africa-born Soldiers from around the brigade who gave pointers to deploying Soldiers, and their language skills in French, Twi, Swahili, and other African languages is invaluable.
"It was a great experience to observe the Soldiers who are going and take the time to give them basic knowledge of African culture in general," said Sgt. Ernestina Opoku, a chaplain's assistant with 299th BSB and native of Ghana. "One of my [noncommissioned officers] came back [from a mission in Africa] and she was really grateful. She said she really used the basic culture things I taught her, like not giving things with your left hand."
Based on feedback from the April rotation, the course now has subject-matter expert mentors from the Asymmetric Warfare Group out of Fort Meade, Md., who attach themselves to a particular group of Soldiers who are deploying to their region or country of expertise. This constant presence allows Soldiers to continually ask questions and better understand the environment in which they will be conducting their mission. Advisers from Kansas State University's African Studies Department are also giving freely of their time and expertise.
So far, the brigade has conducted five missions -- to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Niger, and Ghana. Many more are in the pipe, on a wide geographical spectrum, Broadwater said.
"We have folks going to eastern Africa, to western Africa, to southern Africa. Those are the three general locations on the continent that we're focused on for this Dagger University," he said. "There are about 50 more [missions] for the rest of the fiscal year."