THEBEPHATSHWA AIR BASE, Botswana -- Food service soldiers from four different Illinois Army National Guard units have the opportunity to feed more than 1,200 service members from around the world, in support of Southern Accord 12 in the Republic of Botswana.
SA12 is a joint exercise in which U.S. forces come together with the Botswana Defense Force in order to strengthen their partnership and learn from each other. The two militaries conduct humanitarian assistance/peacekeeping operations and aeromedical evacuation throughout the 16-day exercise to enhance military capabilities and interoperability.
Cooks from the ILARNG units are working with cooks from the BDF to serve a hot breakfast meal to service members from both countries. Master Sgt. Jerry Kraemer of Paris, Ill., the brigade food service sergeant of the 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade out of Chicago, said the 10 Guardsmen are meshing well with their nine BDF counterparts.
"They cook together and they serve together," Kraemer said.
The soldiers are also learning from each other. U.S. soldiers are teaching the BDF how the U.S. cooks in the field, as well as classes in food safety. The BDF are sharing their experiences with their mobile kitchen units, called Karchers, as well as their Setswana language and culture.
"I'm impressed with…how hard working they are," said Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Fagerstrom of Roscoe, Ill. "They really want to learn."
Fagerstrom, a food service noncommissioned officer with the 333d Military Police Battalion out of Bloomington, Ill., is slated to teach one of the food safety courses during the SA12 exercise. He said the BDF cooks were eager to get started immediately, even though they only observed the preparation of the first day's meal.
"The first day they were here, they were upset that they didn't get to cook anything," Fagerstrom said.
Staff Sgt. Tatshee Simmons of Chicago, food service section sergeant with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 108th Sustainment Brigade out of Chicago, appreciates the opportunity to train with the BDF.
"It's a great experience to come here and work with them," Simmons said.
The BDF soldiers are also grateful for the collaboration.
"I like the experience for cooking," said BDF Pvt. Suping Boy, a chef's helper. "It helps me cook at home. I can show my mom and little brothers my cooking. I cook a lot at home."
SA 12 is scheduled to run through Aug. 17. The exercise is a key element in a broader series of military-to-military activities that demonstrate the strong partnership between the U.S. and the BDF.