By Army Spc. Michelle Lawrence
Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa
GAKO, Rwanda (11/18/11) â€“ A team of Citizen-Soldiers from the 1st Battalion 161st Field Artillery Kansas Army National Guard recently returned from a 10-day mission to Gako, Rwanda, where they conducted a company grade and non-commissioned officer course with the Rwanda Defense Force.
The course consisted of sharing different leadership skills that enhanced the soldiers' understanding of what it means to be a leader and how to take care of and command their troops.
According to Army Capt. Kevin Cadena, 1-161 FA, the course, consisting of 71 soldiers, 51 non-commissioned officers and 20 officers, was split down the middle into two platoons with no regard to rank.
Each platoon then "built three sections with an overall platoon sergeant and leader," said Cadena. "Each section had a leader and was broken down into different teams, giving multiple soldiers the opportunity to lead."
During the course, everyone was given the chance to experience all the roles - from a soldier following orders to a leader providing direction.
"It might have been a lieutenant as the team leader, a staff sergeant as the squad leader and a sergeant as another team leader with lieutenants under them," said Army 1st Lt. Benjamin Ronning, 1-161 FA. "They rotated roles the whole time to give everyone a chance."
Along with learning the different leadership roles within a platoon, the RDF and U.S. Soldiers were able to share different soldiering skills such as land navigation and situational training exercises, despite the language barrier.
"We used about five languages throughout the training," said Cadena. "We conversed in French, Kirwanda, English, Swahili and a slang of Kirwanda and Swahili."
According to Ronning, they overcame the language barrier by learning commands in French, using hand signals and learning from the RDF soldiers who knew various languages.
"Learning and having the instruction in multiple languages presented some challenges," said Cadena. "But once we all picked up a few of the key words, the communication between everyone wasn't much of an issue. The RDF soldiers appreciated us trying to communicate in a language they were more comfortable with. It enhanced the friendships we established during the course."
The friendships forged between the RDF and U.S. Soldiers supported the Combined Joint Task Force â€“ Horn of Africa mission statement.
"We felt we followed through with enhancing partner nation capability, one of the pillars of the CJTF â€“ HOA mission," said Cadena. "The RDF soldiers were very gracious and receptive during the course. I would gladly participate in another mission like this â€“ whether it is back to Rwanda or moving forward to another country."