ACCRA, Ghana -- Gravel dust rolls out of the bucket of a yellow Caterpillar tractor as an army engineer tilts his pinky and thumb toward his body, indicating to the operator to start feathering out the gravel.
The foundation of a helicopter landing zone is one of many construction projects at the Bundase Training Camp in Ghana during United Accord 2018, but the most important foundation built is comraderie and a lasting partnership between the U.S. Army and the Ghana Armed Forces.
"It's been an extraordinary experience to not only practice our skills and apply them towards a real-world purpose, but to also learn from, teach and work with the GAF and North Dakota National Guard on these projects," said Sgt. Daniel Howard with the 36th Engineers. "Everyone came together and our different capabilities meshed quite well, we are fortunate to have received this unique opportunity."
A few hundred yards away, the sound of an electric saw cutting through lumber echoes across the sky as Soldiers with the North Dakota National Guard's 188th Engineer Company, 231st Brigade Support Battalion, 141st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade carefully measure and cut wood to assemble school desks with the GAF and the Royal Netherlands Army.
After the cuts have been made, the soft wood, similar to that of pine, is passed off to the hand-sanding station before it moves on to final assembly. In between production, laughs and jokes are exchanged. Altogether, the engineers constructed and stained 40 desks with a dark walnut color in two days. The desks were then donated to L&A Memorial Academy, a local children's school in Accra, Ghana.
"The best part of this experience is that it doesn't matter who is assigned to do what, everyone has a great attitude and is happy to help however they can," said Spc. Brady Heisler, a carpentry and masonry specialist with the 141st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. "We are doing something special here, it's an indescribable feeling and an experience that we will never forget."
Around the corner, the 141st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade is working with the 36th Engineers and the GAF to build structures for the training camp. In assembly-line fashion, lumber is measured and cut as team members take turns using hand saws. Fluid movements and strong communication in the construction area give the appearance that the 36th Engineers, 141st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade and GAF have been working together for years, however, it has only been a few weeks, according to Heisler.
"We've been able to jump in and show everyone what we can do in a short amount of time, and I think it's important to know that there is more to the Army than just Infantry," said Spc. Ingrid Fredrickson, a carpentry and masonry specialist with the 141st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. "There are so many other skills and trades that we are trained to be proficient in and I'm glad that we have the chance to prove that."
As U.S. Army engineers begin packing for the end of United Accord 18, they leave behind a new helicopter landing zone and training structures. Children of the L&A Memorial Academy are left with new school desks, and according to Fredrickson, everyone involved are left with lasting memories to reflect on.
"There is no better feeling than giving your time and effort to something positive," said Fredrickson. "It's surreal that we get to travel the world and leave our mark by building things and making improvements."
United Accord 18 is a Ghana Armed Forces and U.S. Army Africa hosted exercise consisting of a command post exercise, field training exercise, Jungle Warfare School and medical readiness training exercise. West African partner militaries, NATO allies and U.S. Army Africa will execute each component in Accra, Ghana, and surrounding areas.