January 11, 2010 at 4:02 p.m.

Pfc. Ryan Schaefer, participates in Exercise Natural Fire 10 in Uganda

Pfc. Ryan Schaefer, participates in Exercise Natural Fire 10 in Uganda
Pfc. Ryan Schaefer, participates in Exercise Natural Fire 10 in Uganda

By By Michael Tolzmann-

Kitgum, Uganda - When the son of a Stewartville woman 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.

Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Ryan M. Schaefer, son of Vicky Lee Defrang, of Stewartville, 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.

Schaefer is a military police officer with the Military Police Company Minneapolis, at Fort Snelling, MN. He came to this country to share his technical expertise.

"We are teaching our skills to six African nations while learning theirs," said Schaefer, a 2008 graduate from Stewartville High School.

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.

Schaefer and his American colleagues gained experience and learned about Africans in this remote place.

"This training is important because it will help us be prepared and more efficient if we need to work together in the future," said Schaefer.

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, Schaefer developed his own impressions of Ugandan culture. "There are huts made out of grass and mud, dirt roads, tall grass and a wide variety of trees and wildlife here," Schaefer said.

Schaefer arrived in Africa with expertise based on his military career. He has completed seven months of military service.

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.

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