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NEWS | Aug. 24, 2012

North Dakota National Guard concludes series of SPP engagements

By Courtesy Story North Dakota National Guard

FARGO, N.D. - As the State Partnership Program marks its 20th anniversary this summer, the North Dakota National Guard heads into its ninth year partnership with the African country of Ghana. Recent months have been filled with events that brought the North Dakota Guard and the Ghanaian armed forces closer together.

"Just like the North Dakota National Guard, the Ghana Armed Forces remain actively employed in responding to flooding and in deploying around the globe," said Army Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, the adjutant general of the North Dakota Guard. "We also share commonalities in our goals to reach out to military families and continually improve the reintegration process."

And it's through those similarities that the relationship has grown.

"These similarities have grown into a robust and close-knit partnership from which we're both greatly benefiting," said Sprynczynatyk. "In turn, our communities, state and nation benefit from the skills our Guard members have been refining in prevention and response capabilities for natural and manmade disasters, as well as in teamwork on a global scale while developing ways to support education and health initiatives. These skills are being implemented not only while our men and women are wearing the uniform, but in their civilian work and education."

Besides military exchanges, the program has incorporated universities and businesses in North Dakota. Recent missions, however, have focused on the military angle and included not only members of the Ghanaian armed forces but also those from Togo, Ghana's neighbor to the east and part of a larger effort to build a regional partnership program.

Recently, chaplains, safety officers and maintenance personnel from the Ghana and Togo armed forces visited the state during a partnership trip that connected them with their North Dakota Air National Guard counterparts.

"I am enjoying things. I have learned a lot," said Ghana Army Warrant Officer Eric Adomako. "… We have a lot of things to tell and teach our people back in Ghana" as a result of the visit."

While Adomako was busy reviewing ways to enhance safety programs, three maintenance officers, including one from Togo, learned about electronic tools and discussed maintenance practices, procedures and documentation. Three chaplains — two from Ghana and one from Togo — also accompanied them, working alongside North Dakota National Guard chaplains while exploring ways to better serve military men and women and their families.

This exchange also marked the first time the North Dakota National Guard has had a visitor from Togo, as well, said Army Maj. Brock Larson, State Partnership Program director for the North Dakota National Guard.

"It was very instructive," said M. Sebastein Adjogah, Togo military chaplain, through an interpreter. "It has contributed to the reinforcing of our capacity, especially in terms of…the chaplain and chaplain assistant (roles)."

Air Force Lt. Col. John Flowers, North Dakota National Guard state chaplain, said it was "great to meet colleagues in ministry from African partner nations."

"We were reminded once again how blessed we are in the American military to have our chaplain assistants, enlisted partners, to share the load," Flowers said. "Our African colleagues do not have chaplain assistants, and they were very impressed with our enlisted support."

Adjogah said he benefited from seeing how the Guard chaplains work with those at Veterans Affairs hospitals and with other military retirees.

"It is very good not to forget about the veterans, even if they are retired now," said Adjogah.

Earlier this month, an engineer exchange took place at Camp Grafton Training Center that focused on engineer tactics and techniques, from construction to demolition.

Prior to this month's visits, several other events brought North Dakotans and Ghanaians together to continue to foster the Department of Defense-sponsored partnership. In June, Command Sgt. Maj. Harley Schwind, the senior enlisted leader for the North Dakota Army National Guard, and Staff Sgt. David Rohrich traveled to Ghana for a Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Guest Lecture Series. The weeklong engagement coincided with the Ghana Armed Forces' Sergeants Major Course and incorporated discussions on roles and responsibilities of operations NCOs and senior NCOs.

As the visit ended, the North Dakotans escorted Ghana Army 1st Lt. Frank Amponsah to the state, where he took part in a combat engineer familiarization event at Camp Grafton.

Earlier in the year, Army Lt. Col. Brent Naslund and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Kari Pearson, who work in the North Dakota National Guard's Joint Operations Center, conducted a workshop on how to establish, set-up and operate a JOC to improve response to attacks as well as natural and manmade disasters.

And, in May, Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Pearson and Sgt. 1st Class Paul Deegan, both engineer class instructors at the 164th Regional Training Institute at Camp Grafton, traveled to Ghana as part of a mission focusing on engineers in a peacekeeping environment. While there, they worked with 40 Ghanaian military engineers in identifying and reporting procedures for unexploded ordnance, identifying and neutralizing booby traps, minefield extraction techniques, and identifying improvised explosive devices and clearing roadways.

"I considered myself lucky to be chosen last year, but the second trip far outweighed the first in that I was greeted with hugs and handshakes from officers, NCOs and civilians alike," said Deegan. "The bonds built in this program transcend from professional to personal easily."