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NEWS | Aug. 10, 2012

Botswana: Illinois National Guard, Botswana Defense Force combine efforts on engineering projects

By Sgt. James D. Sims, U.S. Army National Guard Illinois National Guard

MKANKAKE VILLAGE, Botswana - The Illinois Army National Guard's 631st Engineer Support Company, is assisting the Botswana Defense Force engineers with road improvements and a pond restoration project here, as part of Southern Accord 2012.

"This is a five and a half mile stretch of road that leads to Mkankake Range," said Army 1st Lt. Jera Muder, the platoon leader for the road improvement project with the 631st. "Currently it is unserviceable and our goal is to complete as much of this project as we can before we have to go back to Illinois."

The road is a natural conduit for rainwater as it flows from high ground and washes out sections of road, rendering it impassable.

"The part of the road we are currently working on has too much sand, so we are removing enough of it to get to a more solid surface," Muder said. "We will then bring in water trucks to wet the surface, rip it up, grade the surface and flatten it out. This will create a hard surface we can then lay gravel on."

The 631st will help to complete as much of the road as they can during their time in Botswana. After the engineers leave, the BDF will conclude the project.

"It has been very good working with the Americans," said Sgt. Lebuse Kobe, a roads technician with the BDF engineers. "We have learned as much from them as we have given them information on how we do our roads. The locals are happy because this is also a road that leads to their village and gives them a better road for travelling."

Concurrent to the road project is a pond restoration near the village, which is used to water livestock and other small agricultural needs.

"This is a small pond that would essentially dry up halfway through the dry season and the livestock depend on it for water," said Army Sgt. 1st Class John Jones, with the 631st. "The elders of the village asked the BDF to expand and deepen the pond so it would last longer."

"We will widen the front of the pond by 20 to 25 meters and increase the depth on the back side by 10 to 15 feet," said Army Sgt. Galen Dellinger, a heavy equipment operator with the 631st, "tripling the size of the existing pond."

As the road improvement team passes the pond restoration site, both teams will connect the drainage ditches from the road to the pond so there is more supply to keep the pond from drying up too early.

Although the team from Illinois will have to leave prior to the completion of the project, they are confident the BDF will see it through to completion, said Muder.

Southern Accord 2012 is an annual combined, joint exercise which brings together U.S. military personnel with counterparts from the BDF to conduct humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations, peacekeeping operations and aeromedical evacuation to enhance military capabilities and interoperability.