ACCRA, Ghana - About 100 U.S. Soldiers - nearly a quarter of whom hail from North Dakota - experienced firsthand the vibrant history and culture of the Greater Accra Region of Ghana July 17 while participating in MEDFLAG 11.
The Ghana Army-sponsored cultural day was one of the many examples of the kindness the Ghana Armed Forces has shown to U.S. service members who have traveled here to work side-by-side with their GAF counterparts in the joint humanitarian assistance exercise.
The chief of the Shai people, Nene Teye Kwesi Agyeman, along with tribal elders and traditional healers, greeted the U.S. Soldiers at historic Dodowa Forest, the site of the famous 1826 Battle of Kantamanto. In addition to the official welcome and the history lesson and ceremonial blessing of the site, traditional Shai dancers and musicians also performed for the crowd.
"I enjoyed it," said Army Sgt. Jacob Stoelting, a combat medic for the North Dakota National Guard's 814th Medical Company. "I liked that their ruler came out and talked to us at each location. I felt really welcomed."
At the next stop, Shai Hills Resource Reserve, the Soldiers and their escorts got up close and personal with a troop of olive baboons congregating near the visitor's center.
After being welcomed and educated by the reserve park rangers and the village chief, the participants moved on to the Shai people's ancestral cave, now called the Sagu Bat Cave after its current residents.
Occupied by the Shai king until the end of the 19th century, the cave was defendable in times of war due to the abundance of great stone rocks, tunnel-like openings and overhangs.
"It was interesting hearing about the history and struggles of the people, and how they became what they are now," Stoelting said.
Following the trip back to Accra, the day wound down with a visit to a local market.
"Everything was one-of-a-kind," said Army Spc. Amanda Schumacher, a combat medic who also serves with the 814th.
Although many shops may carry the same style of items, such as a carved wood tribal mask, each item is individually crafted and painted and is truly unique.
"It was a great opportunity to learn about the history of Ghana and see some of the interesting places Ghana has to offer," said Army Capt. Bernadette Bland, the operations officer for the 405th Brigade Support Battalion.
A key program in the United States' efforts to partner with the government of Ghana, MEDFLAG 11 is the latest in a series of exercises involving U.S. military forces and African partner militaries with the aim of establishing and developing military interoperability, regional relationships, synchronization of effort and capacity-building.
The North Dakota National Guard is a participating state with Ghana through the Guard's State Partnership Program, a 65-nation program providing unique partnership capacity-building capabilities to combatant commanders and U.S. ambassadors through partnerships between U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia and foreign countries.