ACCRA, Ghana - Soldiers from the Iowa-based 949th Veterinary Company, U.S. Army National Guard, united with veterinarians from Ghana’s 37th Military Hospital during MEDFLAG 11 to learn from each other and to work together.

Occurring July 11 to July 21 and sponsored by U.S. Army Africa, MEDFLAG 11 strengthens the relationship and interoperability between the U.S. and Ghana military forces through 10 days of collaborative training and sharing of medical expertise, as well as joint humanitarian civic assistance (HCA) in local communities.

During the first half of MEDFLAG, the U.S. and Ghanaian vets spent three days teaching each other, predominantly in a classroom setting.

“They [the Ghanaian vets] are really knowledgeable and helpful,” said Staff Sgt. Julie Niekamp, an animal care specialist with the 949th and a native of New Ulm, Minn. “They’re experienced and willing to work with us.”

Subjects covered included food pathogens, overall food safety, general agriculture practices, food storage, and sanitation. The U.S. vets also taught a class about hazard analysis of critical control points which focuses on setting up a food safety plan and system of prevention.
“It’s nice to learn the kinds of diseases that are more endemic in this area compared to the U.S.,” said Niekamp.

The joint-team of seven Ghanaians and six Americans also took the classes outside to collect and test water from the faucet, a swimming pool and a ditch.

“It seemed like both forces were really enthusiastic about the training that was happening and wanted to be there,” said Maj. Katherine Knacke, the veterinarian officer-in-charge for the U.S. troops and a native of Unadilla, Neb.

After sharing knowledge, everyone headed to the three HCA sites for the second half of the exercise. The MEDFLAG participants visited Ablekuma-Mataheko July 16, Dawhenya July 18, and Doryumu July 19.

Although the vets also dealt with issues like an abscess, lesions and viral infections, they spent the majority of their time at the HCA sites deworming animals.

English is the official language in Ghana, but there are numerous dialects present.

“The language barrier was a little bit of a challenge,” said Niekamp. “Not too bad. Otherwise, anything we ran into [the vets] came up with a solution very quickly.”

One of those challenges was getting the cattle to move through chutes.

“If they’re not used to it, they don’t want to get in,” said Ernest Owusu, the district veterinary officer and a native of the Volta Region.

Besides helping funnel animals from one area to another, chutes hold a cow relatively still because of the lack of space to move from side to side. This allows the vets to treat the animal in a relatively secure, safe environment for all"man and animal.

“I think [MEDFLAG 11] is wonderful,” said Owusu. “It’s bringing people together.”

Despite challenges, the U.S. and Ghanaian team prevailed. The three sites combined, the vets treated more than 2,000 animals, mostly cattle and goats, with a few sheep, cats and dogs.

“It’s been a great opportunity to work with the Ghanaian army,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bryan Davis, a 949th food safety officer and a native of Ankeny, Iowa. “Everyone who’s been training us has been very knowledgeable, willing to share and really becoming a life-long friend.”

“We’re going to get ‘em on Facebook,” he added.

A key program in the United States’ efforts to partner with the government of Ghana, MEDFLAG 11 is the latest in a series of exercises involving U.S. military forces and African partner militaries with the aim of establishing and developing military interoperability, regional relationships, synchronization of effort and capacity-building.

Headquartered in Vicenza, Italy, U.S. Army Africa is the Army Service Component Command for U.S. Africa Command. Dedicated to positive change in Africa, U.S. Army Africa enables full spectrum operations while conducting sustained security engagement with African land forces to promote security, stability, and peace. U.S. Army Africa is commanded by U.S. Maj. Gen. David R. Hogg.