The joint South Africa/US Exercise Shared Accord started at the SA Army Combat Training Centre (CTC) this week with the American contingent introduced to the local tradition of “klip stapel” (rock piling) that starts and ends every exercise at the Northern Cape training area.
Sergeant 1st Class Alexandra Hays reported for US Africa Command that over 300 US soldiers and marines joined “roughly 830 members of the South African military” to start Shared Accord 2017, a combined, joint command post and field training exercise focussed on peacekeeping operations.
Troops from the 101st Airborne Division and US Army Africa soldiers make up the US contingent for the exercise, designed to promote regional partnerships and develop inter-operability. It runs until August 3.
“The main effort of the exercise will be strengthening of multi-national cohesion between South Africa and the United States of America,” Major General M Mbiza, representative for the South African Joint Operations Chief, Lieutenant General Barney Hlatshwayo , said during the ceremony. “Such exercises are not only important, they are a critical prerequisite for adequate force preparation and their long-term benefits are incalculable.”
All ceremony participants from both nations selected a rock before the start of the ceremony to add to the collective pile. Once built, a ceremonial plaque was added to the pile. This was done by Brigadier General William Prendergast, US Army Africa deputy commanding general, and Brigadier General Gustav Lategan of the SA Army.
Traditionally in South Africa, a rock piling ceremony serves as tangible motivation for troops to pledge their commitment in three areas: to train effectively and efficiently, to take care of all equipment entrusted to them and not hesitate to defend the region and continent, and to not bring shame upon themselves while obeying all commands and respecting superiors Hays reported. Additionally, rock piling serves another purpose; to remember fallen South African troops.
“To those who have given their lives in protection of the nation of South Africa – they might be gone, but we will not forget them,” Mbiza said.
A minute’s silence was also observed for fallen South African troops who gave their lives in defence of their country.
“It was a unique experience to see how the South African military memorialises their fallen,” said Sergeant. 1st Class Harold Duffy, the early entry command post non-commissioned officer in charge at US Army Africa.
“It was a good way to integrate us jointly,” Duffy said of the ceremony. “The South Africans brought us into their customs.”
As the exercise progresses, American and South African troops will participate in dismounted light infantry tactical training, culminating in a live fire event.
Shared Accord is a key element in a broader series of military-to-military activities to demonstrate the strong partnership between the US and regional African partners.