By Staff Sgt. Shejal PulivartiJune 1, 2017
ACCRA, Ghana - Caked in mud, dripping with sweat and carrying minimal survival tools, Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment moved through the humid and thick brush of the Achiase Jungle during the Jungle Warfare School in Akim Oda, Ghana, May 20-29, 2017.
The Soldiers were a component of US Army Africa regionally aligned forces who participated in the training conducted by the Ghana Armed Forces. This is the first time that an African country taught the USARAF's regionally aligned forces.
"In 1976, our forefathers and the military high command also thought it wise to also establish a school to train the personnel of the Ghana Armed Forces in jungle warfare, so that in case the situation arise where we have to apply ourselves in jungle warfare, we will be able to do so," said GAF Maj. Jacob Codjoe, the school's course commander. "So that is how the school came to be established to be able to train people."
More than 55 U.S. Soldiers participated in the challenge survive in the harsh Ghanaian jungle during the 10-day course. The GAF instructors equipped the students with practical knowledge specific to the local terrain and environment.
"How to adopt themselves to jungle training is very difficult for them because their type of jungle in the U.S. is very different from the type of jungle that we have," Codjoe said. "We have taught patrolling, which is a key to jungle training ... (we) also taught them how to fight insurgents in the jungle terrain, how to combat guerillas in jungle terrain, raid operations and attack on enemy camp operations."
The Soldiers, performing the various squad and platoon level tactics, quickly realized the difficulty in navigating the jungle and adjusting to the climate.
"We've always been prepared for Iraq and Afghanistan and desert environments and even the mountainous environments, so this is like nothing we've dealt with before," said U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Hugh Smith, the platoon leader for Delta Company. "The terrain and the thickness and how kind of unforgiving the jungle can be, they have to change and tweak things and make it a little different from what we do. There is no way we could prepare for the terrain, there is no way we could prepare for the humidity, but we can be as physically ready as possible."
According to GAF Sgt. Michael Agyemang, the JWS noncommissioned officer in charge, the U.S. Soldiers were determined to soak up knowledge from the expert jungle instructors.
"It's been a fast learning experience between myself and the students; they are just fast. Anything you tell them, they just grab it at once," he said.
Instructors pointed to a sign at the school stating "The Jungle is Neutral," to explain that the jungle takes no sides -- everyone within it is treated the same way. The American Soldiers learned tools to effectively navigate and make the jungle cooperate with them rather than against them, thereby increasing their readiness potential.
Smith said of the course, "I think it's definitely enhanced the readiness. I think coming to a different environment a different terrain that we've never really dealt with before and learning the tactics, learning how to move, learning how to navigate through the jungle has very much helped us in our readiness."
Soldiers faced multiple obstacles that challenged their alertness, such as navigating the dense, visibility-limiting vegetation and uneven ground, traversing waist-deep ponds, crossing unstable improvised bridges and watching for hidden dangerous wildlife.
"The instructors here at Jungle Warfare School take their job very, very seriously. They treat everything we do as if it's life or death because when you are in the jungle environment it really is," said U.S. Army Spc. Bryan Young, an infantryman assigned to 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment.
"You constantly have to be very vigilant," he said. "You have to look out for your surroundings; you have to be situationally aware. Otherwise, the jungle environment will eat you up."
The fast-paced, physically and mentally demanding course accelerated the bond between the students and instructors.
"This training has been extremely important to partnership operations, allowing us to share out doctrine and tactics with the Ghanaian Armed Forces, as well as allow us to learn their tactics and doctrine, enhancing our ability to operate in the future, if necessary, as a cohesive group," said U.S. Army Capt. Matthew Cavanaugh, the Delta Company commander.
"We know what to expect if we were to come to this country again and built those relationships," he said, "allowing for more effective interoperability in the future."
Sleep deprived, covered in ant bites and physically exhausted, the group relied on each other to boost effectiveness during the grueling course. The instructors motivated the students through chants and the students rallied to finish the course.
"I have enjoyed working with them because of the teamwork," Codjoe said. "I've realized that even when they are not able to move, they encourage each other to be able to move through. Just like we witnessed today, they were able to sustain themselves, which was very good for them. So, their teamwork has been very great."
The opportunity to participate in the training created lasting memories, according to Young.
"I will absolutely remember being at Jungle Warfare School for the rest of my life," he said.