LOHATLA, South Africa - More than 300 U.S. Soldiers and Marines joined roughly 830 members of the South African military in a "rock piling" ceremony here July 17, 2017, kicking off Shared Accord 2017, a combined, joint command post and field training exercise focused on peacekeeping operations.

Troops from the 101st Airborne Division, and Soldiers from U.S. Army Africa (USARAF) make up the U.S. Army contingent participating in this exercise, designed to promote regional partnerships and develop interoperability, which will run until August 3.

"The main effort of the exercise will be the strengthening of Multi-National cohesion between South Africa and the United States of America," South African Maj. Gen. M Mbiza, representative for the chief of joint operations, said during the ceremony. "Such exercises are not only important, they are a critical prerequisite for adequate force preparation and their long-term benefits are incalculable."

All ceremony participants from both nations selected a rock before the start of the ceremony to add too the collective pile. Once built, a ceremonial plaque was added to the pile.

Traditionally in South Africa, a rock piling ceremony is meant to serve as tangible motivation for troops to pledge their commitment in three areas: to train effectively and efficiently, to take care of all equipment entrusted to them and not hesitate to defend the region and continent, and to not bring shame upon themselves while obeying all commands and respecting superiors. Additionally, rock piling serves another purpose; to remember fallen South African troops.

"To those who have given their lives in protection of the nation of South Africa-they might be gone, but we did not forget them," Mbiza said.

One minute of silence was also observed for fallen South African troops who gave their lives in defense of their country.

"It was a unique experience to see how the South African military memorializes their fallen," said Sgt. 1st Class Harold E. Duffy, the early entry command post noncommissioned officer in charge at USARAF.

"It was a good way to integrate us jointly," Duffy said of the ceremony. "The South Africans brought us into their customs."

As the exercise progresses, American and South African troops will participate in dismounted light infantry tactical training, culminating in a live fire event.

Shared Accord is a key element in a broader series of military-to-military activities to demonstrate the strong partnership between the U.S. and regional African partners.