VICENZA, Italy - For Soldiers, receiving a Meritorious Service Medal is a special if not fairly rare occasion. For Staff Sgt. Piedad Garcia, earning the MSM was coupled with an additional honor: Garcia's award was presented by Brig. Gen. Joseph Kwankye, Director General of Defence Communications and Information Systems of the Ghanaian Army.

Garcia, an information management specialist who formerly worked for U.S. Army Africa (USARAF) G-6, Information Management Directorate, currently works at Fort Gordon, Ga., the U.S. Army Signal Center of Excellence.

Her meeting with Kwankye took place when the general, along with signal officers from four other African nations -- Burundi, Benin, Togo and Botswana -- and a representative from the African Union (AU), were part of a U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) J-6 sponsored, military-to-military engagement recently in the United States.

Col. Steven Rehn, J-69, Coalition Division, AFRICOM J-6, was the leading AFRICOM representative during the tour. The goal was to provide an overview of available, U.S. based training possibilities and to elevate the general level of communications among the visitors and their American peers.

"We think this event will foster continued positive engagement between USARAF and the armies of Burundi, Benin, Togo, Botswana, and Ghana, and sent a very powerful message to the Fort Gordon military community about USARAF's role on the African continent," said Col. Kristin Ellis, U.S. Army Africa's G-6 chief information officer.

The visitors were accompanied by two Soldiers from USARAF G-6, Sgts. 1st Class Richard Benson and Pride Edwards. "We picked them up and pretty much gave them a tour of the whole East Coast," Edwards said.

The program concentrated on Signal Corps operations and training at a handful of locations, including Indian Head, Md.; the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Gordon; and Atlanta, Ga., where the African officers took a tour of the CNN Center media complex along with a side trip to the Georgia Aquarium, Edwards said.

Presenting Garcia with the MSM was a piece of unfinished business the USARAF Soldiers had in mind as they prepared to meet the African signal officers.

"Myself and Sgt. Benson were kind of her supervisors while she was here, I think for about seven months," Edwards said. They had put Garcia in for the MSM recognition before she PCSd to Fort Gordon, but "unfortunately it didn't get approved prior to her move."

The two hand-carried the medal with them on their trip to the States. The visitors were at Fort Gordon Sept. 22 when the USARAF NCOs saw their chance to present the medal to Garcia.

"Sgt. Benson kind of got together with the officers who were on the trip," Edwards said. Brig. Gen. Kwankye graciously accepted a request to present the MSM to Garcia.

"She was very surprised. It was right after the lunch with all the people there" at the installation's Gordon Club, Edwards said.

Earlier in the day, during a breakfast meeting with Maj. Gen. Alan R. Lynn, U.S. Army Signal Center of Excellence and Fort Gordon commanding general, the African officers received plaques thanking them for their visit. They, in turn, thanked the general for his hospitality.

"We want to thank you for such a warm reception, and we hope this relationship we are building will continue to grow," Kwankye said.