News: Final preparations for Central Accord 13 ensure US, African partners ready for success
Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Amy Wieser Willson, North Dakota Army National Guard
DOUALA, Cameroon – Months of long-distance planning and meetings evolved in recent weeks into an in-person partnership that will launch Central Accord 13. Activity peaked in Douala, Cameroon, during the past week as American and Cameroonian military partners completed final steps for welcoming about 750 U.S. and Cameroon service members, as well as neighboring country observers, for the Feb. 20 opening ceremony.
The combined-joint-aerial resupply exercise, coupled with a medical resupply and evacuation exercise, will focus on military interoperability between the forces throughout classroom training, practical exercises and a three-day field training exercise at the Cameroon Army Engineer Base and Cameroon Air Force Base in Douala.
“There have been a few hiccups along the way, which is to be expected with a mission of this size and complexity. By working with our Cameroonian partners, we’ve solved every challenge with ease and are ready to begin a great exercise,” said Col. Giselle Wilz, Task Force Central commander. “Even the preparations for this multinational event are providing a wealth of training and education on military interoperability to all of us involved in Central Accord 13. The actual exercise is sure to further capitalize on our combined capabilities.”
The first American military members to arrive in Cameroon to coordinate the upcoming mission were Capt. Travis Hackey and 1st Sgt. Bruce Newland. The North Dakota Army National Guard soldiers are serving as liaison officers in the weeks leading up to and following the exercise.
“Since we arrived Jan. 10, we’ve been working with the Embassy Branch Office and the Cameroon military to establish contacts and build relationships. Along with that, we’ve been working with Mr. [Jerry] Madden [Central Accord 13 lead exercise planner from U.S. Army Africa] to double-check hotel reservations and logistical requirements. There are a lot of little things involved with an exercise of this size. We made some good friends at the [Cameroon] Air Force Base that have helped us a lot and saved a lot of headache.”
Once all military members have arrived by Feb. 19, there will be about 160 U.S. service members coupled with their African nation counterparts working side by side in sustaining operations and increasing professional capacity. All of the visiting service members – including the U.S., Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Sao Tome e Principe and Gabonese Republic, as well as the Economic Community of Central African States – will return home after the exercise ends March 1. The only exception is the liaison officers, who will conduct wrap-up requirements with the Cameroonian leaders before returning home later in March.
In addition to the liaison officers, nearly 40 members of the North Dakota Army National Guard’s 231st Brigade Support Battalion, which is managing command and control of the exercise in collaboration with the Cameroon military and U.S. Army Africa, arrived Feb. 10 and 13. They’ve been joined by some service members representing larger portions of their units arriving in the days leading up to the mission start, including the 300th Military Intelligence Battalion, Utah Army National Guard; 369th Sustainment Brigade, New York Army National Guard; 256th Combat Support Hospital, an Army Reserve unit from Ohio; 560th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, Georgia Army National Guard; 5th Quartermaster Company, 21st Special Troops Battalion, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, active-duty Army; 414th Contracting Support Brigade, active-duty Army; Defense Medical Readiness Training Institute, a tri-service organization staffed by the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy; and U.S. Air Force Aeromedical Evacuation. Other units that will be arrive by the mission’s start include the 114th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, New Hampshire Army National Guard; 335th Signal Company, Combat Camera, active-duty Army; 7-158th Aviation, an Army Reserve air medical evacuation unit; 82nd Civil Affairs Battalion, active-duty Army; U.S. Air Force Mobility Support Advisory Squadron, and Asymmetric Warfare Group.
Throughout the preparations for conducting the exercise and syncing the various units, contracting specialists have been finalizing and overseeing contracts involving moving cargo. Those in personnel track the many moving pieces of having service members arrive and take part in different missions once on the ground. Logistics personnel ensure supplies are ready to go while making remaining purchases at the local markets. Intelligence and operations service members continue to refine plans as changes arise. Medical personnel have been testing water and kitchen conditions alongside Cameroon civilians and military members while standing by for any requested support and preparing to conduct training in medical evacuation. Force protection personnel have been working with the Cameroon Army on security measures for all those involved in the exercise.
Maj. Jean Nko’o, head of security at the Cameroon Army Engineer Base, helped pinpoint locations at the base for air drops that will occur as part of the Central Accord training and brought Capt. Andrew Denno, Task Force Central’s antiterrorism/force protection officer, to sites for familiarity and final planning, from a medical clinic to base gates. Col. Freolene Ndjonkep familiarized U.S. leaders with the Engineer Base and its capabilities, working closely with his American counterparts to ensure complete preparedness.
Madden provides the oversight and planning capabilities from a U.S. Army Africa perspective, which has hosted Central Accord -- formerly known as Atlas Drop and Atlas Accord -- since 1996 as a way to further cross training and interoperability between militaries. Madden commented that two years ago, Central Accord saw Uganda fully self-sufficient in the aerial-drop and medical tasks just 30 days after the exercise. Last year, Mali realized full self-sufficiency when its military members needed to use their newly acquired skills within 30 hours of the exercise conclusion.
Cameroon will launch on its course toward being self-sufficient when deployed in the field once Central Accord 13 training begins Wednesday.