POSTMASBURG, South Africa -- U.S. Army Africa Command Soldiers, troops from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), and service members from the South African National Defense Force celebrated Nelson Mandela International Day 2017 by partnering with a local South African animal shelter to provide free exams and medical treatment for pets in the town of Postmasburg, South Africa, on July 18.
The troops, who are training together during Exercise Shared Accord 2017, took time to observe Nelson Mandela International Day -- a tradition first recognized in 2009 by the United Nations General Assembly in recognition of Mandela's contribution to the culture of peace and freedom.
"As part of Nelson Mandela Day we came out to kind of engage the community and give back to the community," said Brig. Gen. William J. Prendergast, USARAF Deputy Commanding General.
"It's just great to see other cultures and make that bond between two nations," Prendergast said, adding that the U.S. Army is committed to strengthening its relationship with regional and national African partners.
U.S. and South African troops partnered with local animal shelter, Diere Forum Postmasburg, and set up a free, outdoor dog clinic for residents living in the shanytown of Postmasburg. Residents lined up for their dogs to receive free vaccinations, flea treatments, and de-worming medicine.
Service members from both countries donned medical gloves and assisted the shelter workers with the pets and interacted with residents.
"I think it was great because we don't get to do that stuff often," said Army Spc. Gladys Y. Gilbert Brea, a cook with the 101st, originally from Gautier, Mississippi.
"It was heartwarming -- I love animals," Brea added.
Mandela Day is observed each year on July 18 as it is the late statesman's birthday, and it calls on all citizens to volunteer 67 minutes of their time in commemoration of Mandela's 67 years in service of promoting social justice. Mandela's legacy includes working as a human rights lawyer, an international peacemaker, and the first democratically-elected president of South Africa.
This year, according to the United Nations website, the theme for Mandela Day was "Action against Poverty," acknowledging Mandela's devotion to fighting poverty.
"We need to make a difference in what we're doing in our communities," said South African Defense Force Col. William Bucibe, a senior staff officer.
"We are here as an organization to give back to the community. We must do good wherever we are so we can make this a better world," Bucibe explained.
Prendergast echoed the sentiment that it is important for service members to be involved in their communities and interact with the civilians that they defend.
"It's community relations, and Shared Accord '17 is really a great opportunity for us to continue to build partnerships with our African partners," he said.