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Homeland Security

U.S. and African military officers prepare for exercise Natural Fire 10

Oct 13, 2009

By Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Africa

ENTEBBE, Uganda -- Soldiers from several East African nations continue to flow into Entebbe, Uganda in anticipation of the Oct. 16 kickoff of Natural Fire 10, a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise.

The exercise is co-led by U.S. Army Africa, a component of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), and the East African Community (EAC) Armed Forces.

Already, friendships are building among participants of the multi-national military partnership exercise -- bonds that will carry them through the coming weeks' challenges and beyond.

"As we prepare for the upcoming training, we are working together and learning from each other," said Staff Sgt. Joshua Sweeton, a U.S. Army Africa operations noncommissioned officer. "We're looking forward to putting our team to the test."

As part of the exercise, participants will respond to a simulated disaster scenario in Entebbe and Kampala.

Supporting the effort, Sweeton and a crew of U.S. Army Africa soldiers worked to establish a mobile command post at Entebbe airfield.

"We've trained hard to establish a DJC2, a deployable joint command and control center, at U.S. Army Africa headquarters in Vicenza, Italy," Sweeton said. "There's a lot of hard work that goes into this."

At the airfield, Sgt. Lucky Tagaloa, a motor pool sergeant from American Samoa, called out directions to Staff Sergeant Lowell Passon, who sat behind the wheel of a Humvee, which towed a trailer full of gear that a CH-47 Chinook helicopter will transport to Kitgum.

Nearby, U.S. Army Sgt. Greg Childers and U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Demtrius Harris, both from the 290th Joint Communication Support Squadron in Tampa, Fla., set up phone and internet connectivity and searched for a clear satellite signal.

Establishing that connection is key for U.S. Army Africa staff to have phone and internet capabilities within the mobile command center nearby, he said.

"When everyone rolls in, they want this system tested and fully operational," Harris said.

Operating in Africa poses unique challenges with high-tech equipment, with the humidity and unique geography, not to mention using a different satellite than in other parts of the world, Harris said.

Soldiers from five East African partner nations will join U.S. troops in Kitgum, the northern region of Uganda.

"Through our interaction we gain a mutual understanding of how our militaries operate," said Lieutenant Col. David Konop, U.S. Army Africa's spokesman. "We learn from them, and they learn from us."

Troops began arriving to Uganda the week of Oct. 12, 2009. Scheduled every two years, Natural Fire 10 offers an opportunity for East African Community (EAC) Partner Nations and the U.S. military to work together on a humanitarian assistance mission.

Roughly 550 U.S. personnel will take part in the exercise, which begins in mid-October and lasts 10 days. The East African and U.S. troops will then depart Uganda for their home stations.

U.S. Army Africa was invited by the Ugandan government to take part, Konop said. All of the preparations were carried out in close coordination with officials from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania, he said.

"This exercise is an example of the U.S. Government's commitment to strengthening our relationship and increasing our ability to operate together to promote security, stability and peace in Africa," Konop said.

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