THEBAPHATSWA AIR BASE, Botswana -- More than 170 Soldiers and Airmen with National Guard units from North Carolina, Alabama, and New Jersey traveled to Botswana to partner with approximately 300 Botswana Defense Force service members at the Thebaphatswa Air Base, July 9-18, 2019 as part of Operation Upward Minuteman 2019.
Upward Minuteman 2019 was a U.S. Africa Command exercise promoting the U.S. National Guard's State Partnership Program on the African Continent.
This was the first iteration of Upward Minuteman, an exercise established to strengthen security institutions, promote multilateral sharing of information, and develop interoperability among partner nations. It is currently planned as a five-year program involving U.S. National Guard units from other states and their African partner countries.
"The exercise was designed to advance relationships between Botswana Defense Forces and the United States Forces, to foster trust and partner capacity, and exchange military best practices while maintaining critical skills," said Maj. Gen. Innocent S. Phatshwane, the Botswana Defense Force Air Arm Commander, during the exercise's closing ceremony. "This will enable our Defense Force to continue to play an increasingly important role in our nation through the lessons learned from this exercise."
The exercise matched U.S. National Guard and Botswana Defense Force firefighters, military police, special forces, musicians, engineers, medical personnel, and leadership together for a week of training before a two-day training exercise meant to test how well the BDF absorbed the training.
During the final event, the BDF conducted security searches at their gate, reacted to a mock riot situation, responded to a simulated car crash with two victims, and culminated with a scenario involving a hijacked aircraft and fire.
Air Force Col. Shawne Johnson, 145th Mission Support Group Commander, with the 145th Airlift Wing, and the commander of U.S. Forces for Upward Minuteman 2019, was hopeful that the culminating exercise would show how successful the training had been leading up to the two-day, hands-on event.
"It's been great," Johnson said. "The Botswana Defense Force really enjoys the training from my perspective. They absorb everything, they want to learn, they want to be the best defense force they can be."
One of the biggest players during the final training exercise was the firefighters, who responded to the vehicle crash and airplane fire scenarios. The North Carolina National Guard firefighters who trained the BDF had covered firefighting and rescue tactics leading up to the big event, including using equipment to remove victims using hydraulic rescue tools to cut through the frame of a car.
"It actually worked out better than I expected," said Staff Sgt. Tim Layton, the fire chief with the North Carolina National Guard's 430th Engineer Fire Fighting Team. "The teamwork aspect was superb."
Layton was part of a team that traveled to Botswana in March 2019 to plan the training for Upward Minuteman 2019. During that time he sat down with the BDF Station Fire Officer and they planned out their part of the overall training event.
The day before the final exercise the NCNG and BDF firefighters spent all day practicing vehicle extrication techniques.
"Our BDF partners caught on very quickly on the techniques that we normally use and it showed today," Layton said. "They are eager to learn, they are gear to help and assist the American Forces and they really enjoy the camaraderie and the teamwork that we have."
Layton said he hopes that the partnership can continue and lead to annual training events in the future, as his Soldiers also benefited from the training with the Botswana Defense Force.
"This has really helped us as a unit and a team develop our skills as instructors," Layton said. "It has helped us learn how to pass on all of what we've learned to someone who may not know our particular methods and techniques."
In addition to the training events, engineers with the North Carolina National Guard's 882nd Engineer Company installed a booster pump to increase water pressure, replaced a section of 4-inch sewer pipe with 6-inch pipe, and installed a separation chamber for a sewer system in one location called the Pink House Project, while they simultaneously worked at the BDF Warrant Officer Barracks repairing sinks, replacing countertops, replacing faucets, repairing drains, installing new shower-heads, replacing a hot water heater, replacing light fixtures, replacing a toilet, installing door locks and repainting more than a dozen rooms.
They also repaired backboards and installed new hoops on the basketball court.
The engineers did more than just repair infrastructure at the Thebaphatswa Air Base, they taught the BDF how to do the repairs themselves making them self-sufficient for the future.
"A lot of it is to better the situation for the BDF, that is the way I take it personally," said Sgt. 1st Class James Hastings, 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."
Throughout Upward Minuteman Soldiers and Airmen were proud of the work they were doing with their BDF partners in Botswana, but for the engineers, there is an added sense of pride that came with completing a physical project.
"We do a lot of hands-on work so you feel very accomplished," said Sgt. Presley Kiger. "We can see what we're doing, you can see that we're making a difference. It's a big satisfaction to us knowing that we can leave this behind for them to use and if we hopefully do come back in the future it would still be here and we can see that it's in progress or maybe they're adding on to it. We hope that they will build off of this project."
The Botswana service members and 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 very good working relationship that we've created this week, they're willing to jump right in with us and get their hands dirty just as we are," Kiger said. "We learn things and they learn things from us, so it's been a good experience"
Although the goal of the event was to provide valuable training for the BDF, one of the most important things built throughout the Upward Minuteman 2019 training exercise was the relationships between the U.S. Forces and the Botswana Defense Force service members.
"Not only have they participated greatly in the training, they are very hospitable people," Johnson said of the BDF. "We've developed relationships but more importantly we've developed friendships from all across the spectrum of both the U.S. and the Botswana Defense Force."
The most obvious of these partnerships was the relationship that developed between the members of the NCNG's 440th Army Band and the Botswana Defense Force Band who played two concerts together in addition to daily practices.
The first concert was part of a multicultural celebration where the bands played separately and together after only one day of rehearsal.
As part of the show, BDF band member Goabaone Ramoswete learned to sing Journey's 'Don't Stop Believing' in English and Sgt. Christian Emory with the 440th Army band learned a traditional song in Tswana, the official language of Botswana.
"I learned a lot from them, it was very nice," Ramoswete said. "I enjoyed working with them, I was very happy that she learned the song in a short time and sang it, very happy to hear her singing my language."
Emory said she had one day to learn the song which was the highlight of the joint concert.
"It's been awesome working with the Botswana Defense Force band," Emory said. "They have been so helpful and they taught me the words very quickly."
In addition to working with the BDF Band, the 440th Saxophone quartet and later the brass quintet played at the home of Craig L. Cloud, the U.S. Ambassador to Botswana.
Like the band, many expressed their desire to continue the partnership with the Botswanan Defense Force and build on the relationships established during Upward Minuteman 2019.
"It is my understanding that if this exercise was successful, which I 100% believe it has been, that they are going to continue to do this throughout the African continent with other state partnerships from other states," Johnson said.
South Africa is scheduled to host the next Upward Minuteman exercise in 2020.
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.