This summer, U.S. Army Africa held its largest, most complex exercise yet on the African continent, in Gabon. Exercise Central Accord 16 had participants from 14 countries, including the United States, Germany, Netherlands, Gabon, Cameroon, Chad and the Republic of Congo, as well as the United Nations.
As U.S. Army Africa’s regionally allocated force, soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division provided training and logistical support during the June exercise.
The exercise centered on several training opportunities with a focus on future peacekeeping missions, including medical and Pathfinder training and classroom time working on U.N. procedures. The field training component in Ayeme, Gabon, was one thing that made this year’s Accord bigger, with emphasis on tactics and techniques for patrols, checkpoints, weapons and planning.
By the end of the exercise, Ali Bongo Ondimba, the president of Gabon, paid a visit to review the training the soldiers had received in Ayeme. He saw demonstrations of the tactics that were learned at different training sites, and walked around the camp to see how the soldiers had been living and operating during the exercise.
“It has been really great because we learned a lot,” Capt. Clement Nikang, with the Cameroonian Armed Forces, said of the training he received. “And that will go ahead to advance our army, give us the skills of tactics and give us the skills to maintain peace and order in our sub-region and eventually in our country. And that will bring us a lot of development in there.”
“They are great,” he said of the U.S. soldiers, with whom he had never worked before. “They transmit well, and the American team which was working with us really integrated themselves into my team without any problem. … It was awesome.”
Participants at Central Accord 16 “seek out every opportunity to increase their training,” said Col. James Dooghan, the commander of 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
Dooghan said he looked forward to his soldiers experiencing the expeditionary mindset of being at the exercise, where they are far from the conveniences of home at Fort Stewart and must rely on one another for basic needs.
“When you know it takes a day and a half to travel to a country and there is a limited number of resources, and you’re relying on everybody to provide the food, to provide the water, to provide the training requirements,” he said.
“That’s great training to develop that expeditionary mindset,” Dooghan added.
Showing the world that “America can come out and help out with the training” was important, said Sgt. Jesse Harlan, a platoon team leader with Bravo Company, 3-7 Infantry Regiment.
“Get people prepared for whatever missions they’re going on, whether it be peacekeeping, wartime,” he added. “That we’re here to help out, help to train, give guidance.”
The exchange of knowledge between the soldiers of the different countries was also an outcome of Central Accord 16.
“This is very important because America, as the United States’ Army, we haven’t been in a jungle atmosphere in such a long time,” said Sgt. Michael Brosseau, a squad leader in Bravo Company, 3-7 Infantry Regiment, of the exercise. “And coming here, we’ve learned through many different countries different ways to maneuver, to operate, in this atmosphere.”
Nikang was also positive about the relationships that were formed between the soldiers.
“This relationship, it has been so good to us because we learn a lot from them, then we interchange culture, knowledge, and since the American Army has bigger knowledge, we learn a lot from them,” he said. “And I think they also learned from us.”
“I mean, we learn as much from them as they do from us,” said Brig. Gen. Kenneth Moore, Jr., deputy commander of U.S. Army Africa. “So it isn’t us teaching them, it’s a professional exchange of ideas to help increase both of our armies’ professionalism.”
Central Accord 16 was important for building trust in the relationships between the allies and also their readiness, according to Maj. Gen. Joseph Harrington, the commander of U.S. Army Africa.
“All relationships are based on trust,” he said. “And the greater trust you have, the stronger the relationship would be. So this engagement here with our partners builds that foundation. And that it is a core foundation in any relationship, is trust.
“Our readiness, our allies’ readiness, the Gabonese readiness and tying that all together, you have individual readiness, and you have unit readiness,” he added. “And ideally, we want to get after both of them. And Central Accord allowed us to really get after a larger ability to employ and fight units here.”
Basing his answer on a quote from then-commander of U.S. Africa Command Gen. David Rodriguez, Harrington said Africa is important to the United States because the continent has the “greatest growth in economics, in population, in potential instability, the list goes on and on. Africa is a growth industry.”
“And our participation here and developing the footprint of experience and relationships, is extraordinarily important going forward,” he added. “And as my boss Gen. Rodriguez said, a little investment now pays a lot of dividend later.”
Nikang had some advice for countries who are interested in training with U.S. soldiers, about what they can expect.
“I will tell them that they lose a lot by not participating. And that they should come and participate,” he said. “We can come up to a level where we will have to use no gun anymore. And that will be great.
“If all of us come together and put our hands together, learn what the Americans are giving and the U.N. are giving us, one day we will come up to the point that we will not touch a single gun. And that will be great.”