By Michael Tolzmann, via Joint Hometown News Service
KITGUM, Uganda – When the son of a Mexico man stepped onto the orange-red soil of this Central African nation, he could have been walking into a National Geographic special presentation.
Surrounded by Africans living in grass-roofed mud huts that dotted the countryside, 550 American military members would bring modern medical science and medication, sweat equity and supplies to rebuild old, rundown schools, and an open textbook in sharing non-lethal military tactics that Eastern African armies could use to bring civil order during future times of trouble.
Army Maj. Ken Spicer, son of Dan Spicer, of State Route 104, Mexico, recently spent a couple of weeks here supporting a military exercise that focused on humanitarian assistance to local Ugandans, along with cooperation between American troops and five area countries. Exercise Natural Fire 10 created friends and partners from the nations of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and the United States in a remote, austere region of Northern Uganda, just south of Sudan.
Spicer is an environmental science officer with the Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine in Landstuhl, Germany. He came to this country to share his technical expertise.
“I’m working in the Task Force Kitgum Public Health Office,” said Spicer. “I’m responsible for preventing disease and non-battle injuries by monitoring our water supplies, food service sanitation, waste disposal and preventing diseases carried by common pests.”
The exercise was led by U.S. Army Africa, but American participants included soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from all over the globe. Exercise highlights included American doctors, nurses, pharmacists and dentists working side-by-side with African partner militaries and providing care to more than 12,000 local Ugandans.
Two local schools and a hospital had construction renovation projects completed by U.S. Navy construction specialists. American Marines here were often covered in orange-colored soil following their daily interaction with the African armies. They taught non-lethal tactics such as crowd control, shared with the Africans in each other’s weaponry and practiced peacekeeping operations.
Spicer and his American colleagues gained experience and learned about Africans in this remote place.
“We’re here to build relationships with our African allies that will lead to mutual understanding and allow future problems to be better handled,” said Spicer. “I’m hoping to develop both personally and professionally while I’m here.”
The United States Africa Command and its subordinate command U.S. Army Africa are available to deploy to Africa in support of a crisis. They exist to promote security, stability and peace in Africa. In recent years, Uganda has been subjected to armed fighting among hostile ethnic groups, rebels, armed gangs, militias and various government forces that extend across its borders. Uganda is a host to hundreds of thousands of regional refugees.
Exercise officials said the exercise partner nations have extremely capable military organizations and that American and African militaries are actively learning from each other.
Through experiences here, he developed his own impressions of Ugandan culture. “I’m so honored to have had the chance to interact with the local people, who have been traumatized by civil strife and conflict for the last 23 years,” said Spicer. “To see how genuinely happy they are, despite widespread poverty and poor living conditions, is humbling.”
Spicer arrived in Africa with expertise based on his military career. He has been in the Army for 12 years and has deployed to Iraq twice.
Although the backdrop to this military exercise conjures visions of a place fit for a safari, the Americans who made their way to this remote African location were much more likely to see a sick child, a hammer or a defensive shield than a monkey. But by helping locals who may know where those monkeys are, a strengthened cooperation between peoples may help keep the region safe and free, for those who prefer to enjoy its natural beauty.