Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. --
Fourteen military members from seven different African partner nations completed their final exercise in a week-long course at the Marine Corps Communications-Electronic School July 26, 2012 as part of a U. S. African Command Exchange training program.
“We’ve been teaching them how we operate, what we teach our students,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Gebo, instructor, MCCES.
Two communications officers were selected from the defense ministries of Benin, Burkina, Faso, Chad, Ghana, Mauritania, Sengal and Togo. Their course provided hands-on experience with Marine equipment and techniques.
Only two of 14 soldiers knew English well enough to communicate on their own. For the rest of the group, a translator stood by to reiterate the lessons taught by the instructors in French, a language common across their nations.
“I’ve been in contact with all of them through their interpreter,” Gebo said. “Other than that there hasn’t been too much of a language barrier.”
The officers United States visit started with a stop at Fort Gordon, Ga, where they took a similar week-long communications course. After a week with U.S. Army soldiers, they traveled to the Combat Center.
Their course with the Marines was more hands-on, incorporating a greater amount of practical application than they had received at Fort Gordon, said Gebo.
The foreign service members were afforded the opportunity to set up and use radio communications on their own using Marine Corps equipment.
“I think it’s important to get this training,” said Ghana Army Lt. John M. Baluo, communications officer, 2nd Signal Squadron. “It really gives us great exposure to have access to this technology.”
The main points of the course taught them to establish, operate, sustain and maintain communications in a combat environment.
“They’re very inquisitive,” Gebo said. “They want to learn everything. They want to know everything.”
Prior to the course, the officers were familiar with High Frequency radios but lacked experience with Very High Frequency and Ultra High Frequency systems. Towards the end of the course, all that was changed.
“I’ve been exposed to new networks of communications and the possibilities with satellite communication,” Baluo continued. “It has helped broaden my horizon in general.”
Between their time learning about the radio systems and how to set up antennas, the officers spent time with Marines, getting in some physical training and getting to know each other better. In the midst of conversation, a Marine and two of the officers learned they were from the same country and spoke the same language.
Pfc. Folly Kangnigan, student, MCCES, was originally born in Togo, moving to the U.S. when he was 12 years old.
“He asked what’s my name, and I said ‘Folly Kangnigan.’ He’s like ‘Oh, that’s from this part,’” said Kangnigan.
Kangnigan and the officers went from speaking English, to French and finally to Ewe.
“I was afraid to talk to them at first, but after I did I regretted not doing it earlier,” Kangnigan said.
After a week with Combat Center Marines, the officers returned home July 27, better prepared to operate alongside their Marine partners in future coalition missions.