For two weeks in July, more than 220 officers and NCO's from 10 countries converged on the Malawi Armed Forces College to share knowledge and exchange ideas at Exercise Southern Accord 14. Led by U.S. Army Africa, the U.S. Africa Command-sponsored exercise included several days of instruction from the U.N. Integrated Training Service and U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute and simulated the deployment of a peacekeeping force in a realistic, challenging scenario.

"Attention in the JOC!" With those words, Maj. Herman Khairabeb of the Namibian Defence Force silenced the exercise Joint Operations Center. The staff had to develop a comprehensive plan to stop armed groups in a fictional country from looting villages and recruiting child soldiers.

Additionally, the staff developed a plan to engage government and host-nation forces, humanitarian aid organizations and displaced civilians. After a flurry of input from every staff sections and a hasty iteration of the U.N. Military Component Planning Process they involved maneuver forces, Civilian Military Cooperation actions with UN refugee and children's aid organizations. Through the use of this and other complex, real-world scenarios, the participants learned to work together and improved military interoperability.

Although hundreds of individuals were involved in the process, a large portion fell to Eugene Martin, USARAF lead planner for Exercise Southern Accord 14. Having planned two previous Accord-series exercises, Martin is familiar with the challenges associated with working across international boundaries. "Each country has different procedures for conducting military operations, and they've all had success doing things their own way," he explained. "Though we all understand the necessity of regional cooperation, bridging those differences is often easier said than done."

The differences were immediately recognizable by Command Sgt. Maj. Larry Orvis of the 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Infantry Division. Initially, different attitudes in the rolls of junior and mid-level leaders led to frustration, but everyone made adjustments to make it work. "It was tremendously rewarding," he continued, "when their leaders and our leaders were able to coordinate and make decisions together to ensure mission accomplishment."

Working together to make sound decisions fit perfectly with SA 14's goals of developing regional relationships and increasing interoperability. "It's important to show our enemies a united front," said Brig. Gen. Vincent Nundwe, chief of operations for the Malawian Defence Forces and exercise director for SA 14. "They should know that if you cause trouble for one, you cause trouble for all." This spirit of teamwork was reflected in the long hours participants put into the exercise, working to ensure plans and decisions supported the objectives.

The exercise wasn't all work and no play, however. In the spirit of building camaraderie and relationships, participants took time to experience a cultural day along the shores of Lake Malawi. The day included several spirited soccer matches, a cultural dance troupe and a barbeque. First Infantry Division Soldiers supporting the mission made the most of their time in Malawi. "It was great seeing our Soldiers take advantage of down time to interact with the local population and gain cultural experience, visit game reserves, and volunteer at the local orphanage," said Orvis. After working so hard to make the exercise a success, he explained, it was important to ensure they took advantage of what, for some, would be a once in a lifetime experience.

When the exercise ended, everyone left with a better appreciation for the importance of constantly working to build capacity and interoperability, and were already looking forward to next year's exercise. Planning for Southern Accord 15 has been under way for months and is currently scheduled to take place in Malawi's neighbor, Zambia. "SA15 will build upon what we developed here this year," stated Martin, who again has been designated lead planner for the southern region's largest annual exercise. "The main difference will be the introduction of maneuver forces and an active, aggressive opposing force," he continued. "It's important to continually evolve and challenge ourselves so we're ready to address whatever security concerns arise."

Southern Accord is an annual USAFRICOM-sponsored, joint exercise that brings together U.S. military personnel with counterparts from African militaries. It is a key element in a broader series of military-to-military activities that demonstrate the strong relationship between the U.S. and African partners. SA 14 took place July 14-25 and included participants from the U.S., Malawi, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Swaziland, Lesotho, U.K. and Germany.