News: National Guard joins 36 nations in Africa’s largest communications exercise
Story by 1st Lt. Miranda Summers Lowe
DOUALA, Cameroon - Four National guardsmen from two states and the District of Columbia are participating in Operation Africa Endeavor, a joint training mission sponsored by U.S. Africa Command which focuses on communications interoperability and information sharing among African Union, U.S. and partner nations.
The mission, which includes participants from 36 nations and the active duty U.S. Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, kicked off June 18 in Douala, Cameroon.
Two Air National Guard officers are serving as observer/controllers during the exercise portion of the two-week mission. One of their first tasks was to help develop the training scenario which is based on African Union, U.S., and U.N. response to a major earthquake in a fictitious country.
Lt. Col. Randy Coltrin of the 217th Air Operations Group in Battle Creek, Mich. and Lt. Col. Jeff Marks of the 183rd Fighter Wing in Springfield, Ill. have been working with teammates from Canada, Uganda, Nigeria and Tanzania.
“Watching the African nations work together has been a great experience. They treat each other so well,” said Marks. “Through this training, spending two weeks together, we’ve really built camaraderie with each other.”
Coltrin added that coordinating so many delegations from across the world has been a challenge, but hard work had been making the operation successful. Two planning conferences took place before the event started.
“The planning that went into this operation has been tremendous--and it paid off. We came in and hit the ground running. We were unable to go to the planning conference, but because of the hard work that went into the planning, everyone seems to understand why they’re here. The scenario planning has been thorough. There’s so much background,” said Coltrin.
“I’m very impressed by the level of participation I see from the African Nations. I’ve really enjoyed working with so many people; so many different countries,” Coltrin added.
This year’s Africa Endeavor included a public affairs workshop for the first time. Seventeen public affairs officers from 14 nations and the African Union participated in three days of training, then operated as public affairs officers during the exercise scenario.
The District of Columbia National Guard sent two participants to the U.S. public affairs team, army Staff Sgt. Michelle Gonzalez and 1st Lt. Miranda Summers Lowe. Alongside Dutch and Canadian public affairs specialists, they provided public affairs coverage of the training and attended some of the workshops.
“The participants in the workshop have a wealth of experience to share. Some of them are the lead or the only public affairs officer for their country and have significant deployment experience across the African continent. We have a lot to learn from each other,” Lowe stated.
Staff Sgt. Michelle Gonzalez of the 715th Public Affairs Detachment provided coverage of the operation, where her work is represented on U.S. Africa Command’s social media outlets as well as the Canadian Armed Forces combat camera webpage.
“It’s been really interesting to see how similar—and how different—our training has been, not only among the African Nations, but also between ourselves and the Dutch and Canadian instructors,” Gonzalez said.
Operation Africa Endeavor is in its sixth iteration, making it the only exercise of its kind to be held on an annual basis.
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