OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso -- Twenty flags of U.N. partner nations and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, blew in the warm Burkina Faso wind between two formations of soldiers representing various participating militaries.

The troops reached into their sleeve pockets, removed brightly colored patches and slapped them on their uniforms signifying the official start of Western Accord 16 and completion of the Opening Day Ceremony, May 2, at Camp Zagre, Ouagadougou.

Western Accord 16 is an annual combined, joint exercise designed to increase the ability of African partner forces and the U.S. to exercise participants' capability and capacity to conduct African Union/United Nation mandated Peace Operations. Lead planners from the Burkina Faso army, U.S. Army Africa and the U.S. Embassy of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso began coordinating the exercise December last year.

"An exercise of this size is normally planned in eight to 12 months, however we had five months to prepare for this exercise," said Maj. Justin Sisak, USARAF lead planner for Western Accord 16. "It's been a lot of hard work and a lot of shared responsibility with the host nation, Burkina Faso. They have been excellent partners. Without their commitment we couldn't have done it."

"[The U.S. Embassy of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso] has been very supportive," Sisak continued. "They have given me all the support and additional resources that we needed to execute, given the short timeline, and made it easy."

This is the first year a western accord series exercise is conducted in Burkina Faso. David K. Young, the First Counsellor, Senior Advisor, and Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. Embassy of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso said this country is the right host nation for Western Accord 16 because they are a serious partner.

"They are very eager to grow their military relationship," Young said. "So, they were very quick to volunteer, to host and to really contribute to this giant effort that's started today."

Burkinabe military leaders hope this exercise will allow their staff to become familiar with the U.N. operational process, strengthen regional and international partnerships, and prepare them to coordinate effectively across ECOWAS for future missions.

"We need our officers to be able to work together in a headquarters level and be capable with all of the know-how and knowledge that entails to work together as a group," said General Pingrenoma Zagre, Chief of Defense Staff for Burkina Faso Armed Forces.

"We're going to have a really good conference, a lot of success," Zagre added.

"We need to incorporate our officers into this organization so they have practice, learn how to operate together as a team, and also with all the various nation partners," said Col. Maj. Yaya Sere, Burkina Faso army lead planner for Western Accord 16. "If our officers can learn how to do that, that's success."

Western Accord 16 is the first of four accord series exercises USARAF has scheduled for this summer with support from 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, their assigned Regionally Aligned Brigade.