By Staff Sgt. Brian Gordon 114th PAD New Hampshire National GuardFebruary 24, 2013
DOUALA, CAMEROON (Feb. 24, 2013) -- Spc. Donnie Kessler joined the Army because he wanted to go as many different places and help as many different people as he could. However, he never expected to find himself standing in a sweltering basement classroom in Africa teaching basic pathfinder instruction to Cameroonian soldiers, only six months after completing pathfinder school himself.
Kessler, and other members of the 356th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade are part more than 150 U.S. service members participating in Central Accord 2013. Central Accord is an annual U.S. Army Africa exercise that brings together Central African countries such as Cameroon and neighboring countries' militaries, to promote regional partnership while strengthening aerial resupply and medical readiness capabilities.
"We're here to teach the Cameroonian soldiers the basics of pathfinder operations, such as setting and marking the drop zones," said Capt. John Shull, commander of 165th Quartermaster Company, Georgia Army National Guard. "They are pretty sharp guys, and very eager to learn."
As ceiling fans moved humid air through the classroom the U.S. Soldiers, with the help of a translator, a power point presentation and a large model airplane, took their counterparts through the numerous aspects of the pathfinder missions. Pathfinders are specialized Soldiers who are trained to set up and operate drop zones.
The students took notes and asked questions of their instructors, discussing various points until they understood everything from administrative tasks to using algebraic equations to calculate wind speed.
Cameroon Army Chief Sgt. Denya Zena, said the training was going well.
"We need to learn these new ideas," Zenas said. "I am looking forward to practicing these methods."
The Cameroonian's enthusiasm to learn was matched by the U.S. Soldier's passion for teaching their job. The pay off for them will be the ability to walk away from the exercise knowing that their students will be able to conduct the aerial resupplies by themselves, said Staff Sgt. Ray Novak, a training NCO with the 356th.
"These guys (Cameroonian students) are all airborne qualified, we all have something in common and we have a lot of the same attitudes," Novac said. "However, they only drop personnel, we're going to give them the ability to drop material and resupply themselves."
Training has been mutually beneficial for all partners involved in the exercise as U.S. Soldiers are now considering implementing Cameroonian techniques as well.
Novak says that instead of using a live paratrooper, his unit is now considering following the Cameroonian practice of using a man sized dummy to judge the wind conditions on an initial parachute jump, to enhance safety.
Classroom and hands-on training will continue throughout the next week. Central Accord 2013 will culminate with a practical exercise featuring actual aerial resupply drops, showcasing the Cameroon soldiers' newly improved skills and capabilities.
"It's a new experience for me, traveling with the Army and meeting different people," said Kessler. "I'm looking forward to everything."