PORT ELIZABETH, Republic of South Africa (July 25, 2013) -- Approximately 700 U.S. and 3,000 South African Defense Force service members gathered here for the opening ceremony of Exercise Shared Accord 13, July 24.

This is the second exercise of its type between these two countries and is the result of bilateral discussions that originated in 2009, and were approved in 2010.

"This particular exercise is aimed at specifically providing collective training for the United States and the South African National Defense Force while building interoperability and mutual understanding between the two armed forces," said South African Maj. Gen. Ephraim Phako, deputy chief of Joint Operations.

The senior U.S. officer on the ground said he hoped the exercise would enable his forces to better themselves and learn new ways of doing things by watching their counterparts.

"We are here also to learn how [South Africans] conduct their day-to-day operations, airborne operations and peacekeeping operations and in turn show them how we conduct those same operations," said Brig. Gen. Peter L. Corey, deputy commander of U.S. Army Africa. "We will improve our own skills by training with them in a different environment."

Shared Accord 13 is a U.S. Army Africa-executed exercise. The multilateral training exercise includes a live-fire operation, airborne and dismounted infantry tactics, a maritime amphibious assault, peacekeeping operations and disaster response. In addition, a humanitarian civic assistance project is scheduled which will provide primary medical, veterinary and optometry assistance to the local population.

"The exercise will include training in peacekeeping operations and joining with sister services to conduct humanitarian aid in the form of local medical, dental and veterinary clinics," said Phako, adding that more than 10,000 pairs of eyeglasses are planned to be distributed.

Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, will be making-up the bulk of U.S. forces involved in the exercise. They will be joined by service members with 82nd Airborne Division, 10th Special Forces Group, 2nd Marine Division, 4th Marine Division, District of Columbia Army National Guard, Rhode Island Air National Guard, New York Army National Guard, 3rd Infantry Division, 1st Medical Command and 1172nd Movement Control Team.

The ultimate goal is to build lasting relationships and increase professional capacity of armed forces from both countries.

"It is my wish that Exercise Shared Accord 13 will set a sterling example for future cooperation and peace support missions between the armed forces of our two countries," said Phako.

Exercise Shared Accord is scheduled to run through Aug. 5. All U.S. units will return to their home bases at the conclusion of the exercise.