VICENZA, Italy (July 23, 2013) -- As the human population increases, natural resources are rapidly being diminished, which puts pressure on energy conservation, especially to those living in developing countries. In countries where locals depend on parks for resources, deforestation greatly affects their way of life.

In an effort to limit the effects of deforestation, five cadets from the United States Military Academy travelled to Kasiisi, Uganda, to participate in the construction of a Biogas Digester during a Renewable Energy mission, conducted from June 16 to July 3, as part of an ongoing cooperation between U.S. Army Africa and USMA.

"This project is just one example of many projects and activities that West Point conducts each summer in all combatant command areas of responsibility," said Chuck Grenchus, Theater Security Cooperation strategy manager, U.S. Army Africa, or USARAF, Security Cooperation Directorate, or SCD. "For cadet activities to be performed on the African continent, West Point planners coordinate with specific USARAF staff elements including the SCD, G3 Current Operations Center, and U.S. Country Teams in destination countries."

The digester, which uses waste and food scraps to create methane for cooking and fertilizer, was constructed in conjunction with The Kasiisi Project, an organization focused on conservation education in Kibale National Park.

Maj. Adam Brady, West Point Geography and Environmental Engineering instructor, said the interaction with Ugandan engineer and construction workers on the digester allowed the cadets to gain a perspective on construction methods in the developing world.

"This project provided an opportunity for the cadets to gain an appreciation of the local community and the challenges they face. In doing so, cadets learned a valuable lesson on the importance of understanding the culture and resources available to the local population in Uganda," said Brady, a Missoula, Mont., native.

All cadets felt their involvement with the construction of the digester provided skills they will need as future officers.

Cadet Ethan Dewart, a Barker, N.Y. native, said this mission will be critical in future engagements with leaders from other militaries.

"Working on a digester that converts waste into energy will be valuable in a military focusing more on sustainability with limited resources," Deward said. "There were many customs and ways of doing things that varied greatly from how we do them. I will remember this in the future as I train my Soldiers for deployment to foreign countries."

Cadet Bonny J. Bradway, a Quinton, N.J., native, said building a digester helped enhance her understanding of engineering and its importance to people in a developing country.

"I take away an appreciation for how hard the people in Uganda work to do simple things that Americans take for granted," Bradway said. "Getting a taste of what it is like to haul water daily and mix concrete by hand gives me a better understanding of how other parts of the world function, and also makes me think twice before wasting water."

With the cadets being directly involved with primary construction of the digester, it allowed them to have a connection to the people of Uganda and the continent of Africa.

Cadet Courtland R. Adams, a Colorado Springs, Colo., native, said traveling to Uganda provided him an opportunity to broaden his global awareness and deepened his interest in cultural relations.

"While the primary purpose of the trip was to learn about renewable energy, I quickly realized that understanding Uganda's culture was equally as important," said Adams. "My visit to Uganda offered me valuable lessons on what human beings are capable of accomplishing with very little (resources). After experiencing such an authentic trip, I now have aspirations of becoming a Foreign Area Officer, where I can continue to learn new languages, cultures and ways of life."

This is the second digester the USMA has been involved with in the past two years in partnership with Green Heat Uganda, a company that supports small-scale biogas development in Uganda.

In addition to the lessons learned, this mission fostered partnerships between local organizations and companies that does not require U.S. involvement to flourish, which is the type of situation the military should strive for, Brady said.

"Regardless of the future of our relationship with the Kasiisi Project or Green Heat Uganda, these two organizations will be connected and interact for the foreseeable future," Brady said.