GABORONE, Botswana -- More than 170 Army and Air Guardsmen from North Carolina, Alabama, and New Jersey are training in partnership with their Botswana Defense Force counterparts during Upward Minuteman 2019; a U.S. Africa Command exercises promoting the National Guard's State Partnership Programs on the African Continent.
The training, which runs for about two weeks in July 2019 and will continue through the middle of July, includes security forces, military police, Army musicians, firefighters, and engineers.
The engineers, with the North Carolina National Guard's 882nd Engineer Company, are using real-world plumbing and constructions projects to enhance the facilities at the Thebephatshwa Airbase in Botswana, and train BDF service members how to continue these type of projects in the future.
By the end of Upward Minuteman 2019, the 882nd Soldiers, in partnership with the BDF counterparts will have installed a booster pump to increase water pressure, replaced a section of 4-inch sewer pipe with a 6-inch one, installed a separation chamber for a sewer system in one location called the Pink House Project. Also, working simultaneously at the BDF Warrant Officer Barracks replacing counter tops, faucets, a water heater, light fixtures, toilet, repairing drains, sinks, installing new shower heads, door locks and repainting more than a dozen rooms. They also have fixed a backboard and installed new hoops on the basketball court.
They are doing more than fixing the facilities; they are teaching the BDF how to do the repairs themselves in the future.
"A lot of it is to better the situation for the BDF," said Sgt. 1st Class James Hasting, the Construction Site Supervisor at the Warrant Officer Barracks location. "The BDF is learning how to conduct maintenance, how to clear these water lines, what to do when something else breaks, and how to fix or replace it."
The Botswana service members are not just learning from their U.S. counterparts, they are jumping in and at times getting dirty and wet right alongside them. When a water pipe broke during the excavation of the sewer line at the Pink House Project, BDF service members immediately jumped in and began repairing the line.
"It's a good working relationship that we've created this week. Botswana service members are willing to jump in with us and get their hands dirty just as we are," said Presley Kiger, a horizontal engineer working at the pink house project. "We learn things, and they learn things from us, so it's been a good experience."
In 2011 the 882nd spent time in El Salvador and 2017 they went to Romania. Both times were completing construction projects, but this is the first time many of the Soldiers have worked side by side.
"It is a great experience. The Soldiers get to partner with someone from a different country. These opportunities are a once in a lifetime for some of these Soldiers," Hastings said. "Here, they get to work together and learn from each other."
In addition to the experience of partnering with Foreign Service members, the projects themselves are also a learning experience for the 882nd engineer Soldiers.
Capt. Kevin Jones, the 882nd Engineer Company Commander, said the projects are great training opportunities for his Soldiers and they will leave with more knowledge in both technical and people skills.
"It is useful from the training aspect, but at the same time, so we can build a relationship with our different partners," he said. "When we work with them in the future, they will know how we operate. I think that the biggest part of being here is to build the relationship."
Upward Minuteman 2019 is the first of its kind exercise, building a relationship between North Carolina National Guard and the Botswana Defense Force, as well as setting an example for future training events like it across the region.
For the 882nd Soldiers, their construction projects will act as a tangible legacy that both forces will build on in the years to come.
"We do a lot of hands-on work, so you feel very accomplished," Kiger said. "We can see what we're doing; you can see that we're making a difference. It's a big satisfaction knowing that we can leave this behind for them to use, and if we come back in the future, it will still be here. We hope that they will build off of this project."
There are currently 13 State Partnerships between the United States and African Nations: North Carolina and Botswana; California and Nigeria; New York and South Africa; Michigan and Liberia; Utah and Morocco; Vermont and Senegal; Wyoming and Tunisia; Kentucky and Djibouti; Massachusetts and Kenya; and Indiana and Niger. The North Dakota Guard is partnered with three countries: Ghana, Togo, and Benin.
The U.S. National Guard's State Partnership Program began in 1993 with partnerships between NG designated states and newly independent Eastern European countries.