BISMARCK, N.D. - The second of two missions to Ghana, Africa, recently concluded for three North Dakota Army National Guard Soldiers and a North Dakota civilian volunteer. The trips built upon a 4-year relationship that has continuously fostered the exchange of ideas and information to improve training and crisis response for both North Dakota and Ghana.
Lt. Col. Mark Tibor, a training specialist in the North Dakota National Guard, and Doug Friez, a program advisor, traveled to Ghana's eastern region to conduct a disaster management workshop. They were followed by 2nd Lt. Lucas Klettke and Staff Sgt. Dave Kendall, who serve with the 188th Engineer (Vertical) Company.
During Klettke and Kendall's weeklong trip, they shared U.S. Army best practices for construction project management. They also discussed the possibility of a platoon-sized element traveling to Ghana next year to work with Ghanaian military engineers, an exchange that would benefit both the state and Ghana through valuable training and information exchange.
The prior week included a workshop on the principles of disaster and emergency management, as well as an overview of the Incident Management System. Thus far, disaster management workshops have been conducted for leaders of stakeholder organizations in seven of Ghana's 10 regions, as well as for national stakeholders and the Ghana Armed Forces. Workshops in the remaining three regions are scheduled to be completed by the end of next year.
Like North Dakota, Ghana frequently experiences flooding. The exchanges and reviews of lessons learned and best practices have helped both entities improve their organization and response to such disasters.
This most recent workshop was the sixth in Ghana but the ninth exchange conducted since 2005. North Dakota has hosted Ghanaian representatives in North Dakota for three disaster management exercises.
"The events have been well-received," Friez said. "Ghana officials have actually credited workshops with improving their response to flood events in northern Ghana in 2007 and 2008."
Beyond disasters, some gifts have accompanied the exchanges. Friez and Tibor, along with Maj. Brent Naslund, started passing out footballs "” soccer balls to us in the United States "” to villages, schools and orphanages during one of their first trips to northern Ghana. Naslund served as the North Dakota National Guard's first bilateral affairs officer in Ghana. After three years in country, he was replaced this summer by Maj. Mike Holly.
"This workshop was held at a church/school facility, and the kids were on the playground daily playing football with some pretty ragged balls. We decided to provide a couple of new ones," Friez said. "We wanted to just drop them off very quietly early one morning but the school officials wanted us to witness the joy of the kids when they receive the balls. It was pretty moving that something so simple as a few soccer balls could elicit so much happiness."
Friez and Tibor also brought soccer balls to a nearby orphanage and small village during their trip.
"The appreciation shown by the kids and adults in the area was extremely gratifying," Friez said.
Since 2004, the North Dakota National Guard has fostered a professional relationship with Ghana as part of the Department of Defense's State Partnership Program. The program aligns states with partner countries to encourage the development of economic, political and military ties. Building these relationships helps Guardsmen learn to interact within cultures with which they are unfamiliar, an increasingly important skill, while also bringing expertise and knowledge to a country anxious to prosper.