Night Stalker’s heritage adds to unit success, personal pride during major SOF traini

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http://news.soc.mil/releases/News Archive/2010/June/100621-01.html

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (USASOC News Service, June 21, 2010) – A group of Night Stalkers headed to Africa in May to provide two MH-47 Chinooks for a major Special Operations Forces exercise called Flintlock 10. For most of the Soldiers, it was their first time visiting the continent.

For one, it was a place of great familiarity. He was home again, this time as a Soldier in the United States Army.

Spc. Ephraim Amou-Berry, known to his fellow Night Stalkers as “A-B,” works on Chinook helicopters for 2nd Bn., 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), at Fort Campbell, Ky.

He is also a native of Ave-Dzolo, Togo, in West Africa, with an intimate understanding of the regional culture and the invaluable skill of speaking fluent French, the common language across the continent.

The month spent in Africa will have a lasting impact on both Amou-Berry and his fellow Night Stalkers.

“My team was grateful that they were part of (Exercise Flintlock),” Amou-Berry said.
Soldiers told him the experience opened their eyes to a lot of things. Some said they are grateful to be U.S. citizens. Some said they didn’t know what they would have done without him.

But Amou-Berry combined both worlds and facilitated a mutual understanding and appreciation.

“I was a link and bridge for them,” he said. “We were so happy to experience the food, culture and customs together.”

Going home

Arriving to Bamako, Mali, in Africa was an emotional experience for Amou-Berry.
“I embraced the soil when I stepped out of the plane,” he said. “I was happy to go back and give something to my motherland.”
In addition to his aircraft maintenance duties, Amou-Berry had volunteered for the deployment to support his unit as an interpreter, to help overcome the language barrier.
This proved to be important for the training mission and relationship building with the host nation partners.

Amou-Berry said he was an ambassador for the U.S., his unit and his native country.
Host nation military personnel and citizens from Mali and Senegal, Africa, were also very encouraging and supportive of his decision to serve in the American Army.
They wished him success and courage. They told him he gave them hope.

“For them, I do not just represent my home country, but the whole continent,” he recalled. “Some even told me what the whole Africa continent expects from me.

“I told them they could do the same, to seek the opportunity and take it seriously when it comes.”

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Amou-Berry takes the responsibility of being a Soldier very seriously.

He volunteered for Army service in February 2009 at the age of 30. He wanted the challenge of starting his training with the elite special operations.

“I want to give back to this Nation that offers so much,” he said. “I want to be a well-rounded citizen and that will take too long to get through a traditional school system.”

Amou-Berry was frequently described on this trip as hard working, having a great attitude and being cheerful. He greeted everyone with a smile and handshake.

“He was the epitome of a human force multiplier,” said Staff Sgt. Anthony Gonzales, the non-commissioned officer in charge of aircraft maintenance during the exercise. “His many talents came in handy every single day. At our level, he was our MVP.”

The mission

After nearly a year of planning, the contingent of Night Stalkers arrived at an airfield in Bamako, Mali, to provide Chinook helicopter support for Exercise Flintlock 10. The Special Operations Forces exercise, conducted by Special Operations Command Africa with participation of key European nations, focused on military interoperability and capacity-building with partner nations throughout the Trans-Saharan region of Africa.

They knew where the helicopters would be maintained. They knew when they had to be ready to fly. They knew how much fuel they needed to support training events. They knew drivers were contracted to move personnel between where they would work and sleep. They knew how Soldiers would get food and water.

Until they stepped off the plane, none truly realized how much they would need Amou-Berry to complete their mission.

“Where’s A-B?!?” It was a question asked by unit Soldiers and leaders at every level many times a day, sometimes with great urgency.

“I knew the language barrier was going to be a challenge, but I don't think I fully grasped it until I got on the ground and realized that the locals spoke about as much English as I do French - which is none,” said Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Lewis, the flight company platoon sergeant and later non-commissioned officer in charge of the trip.

The training required a great deal of coordination with Malians and Senegalese military leadership and citizens.

From coordinating fuel for the helicopters and interacting with host nation military personnel, to working daily ground transportation and finding life support essentials in town, to negotiating in the marketplace and explaining the local culture to fellow Soldiers - Amou-Berry was the man.

And this was in addition to his primary responsibility working on the helicopters.

“I think from day one the mantra around the (operations center) and on the flight line was ‘Where's A-B?’ because someone always needed him to translate or interpret to locals,” Lewis explained.

Between conducting maintenance and working with the unit staff, Amou-Berry worked more hours than anyone else on the trip, said Gonzales.

“It was difficult, but I loved the opportunity, and will do the same again,” Amou-Berry said.

Special Operations ground forces involved in the exercise, by the nature of their mission, had Soldiers with French language skills from their units or interpreters assigned to their formations for the duration of the exercise. The Regiment didn’t have that same luxury.

Thankfully Amou-Berry heard about the exercise during planning stages and went to his platoon sergeant to volunteer for the deployment.

“(A-B) mentioned his proficiency in French and that he would like to come along and help out with any translating we would need done,” recalled Gonzales.

That offer ended up providing his unit piece-of-mind in mission accomplishment and a cultural learning experience they hadn’t anticipated prior to departing the United States.

“The trip definitely would not have gone as well as it did if Amou-Berry wasn't there,” Lewis said. “That isn't just because he spoke the French language, but because he has ties to (the Northwest region of Africa), and I think that was more valuable than just having someone that studied French for a couple of years.”

The Future

Amou-Berry plans to make a career out of the military. He hopes that includes supporting another Exercise Flintlock in the future.

For the long-term, his heart and calling are in Africa.

“I have another long journey to accomplish when I retire from the U.S. Army,” he said.

“Africa needs to be rebuilt and I’m one of those called for that duty. I’m glad the U.S. Army will provide me with enough knowledge to carry on that mission for my home land.”

100506-A-1114T-12.jpg
Spc. Ephraim Amou-Berry (right) from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), at Fort Campbell, Ky., talks with members of the Senegalese military at an airfield in Thies, Senegal. (Photo courtesy of 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment Public Affairs)

100430-A-1114T-83.jpg
Spc. Ephraim Amou-Berry (left) from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), at Fort Campbell, Ky., works on a Chinook helicopter at a military airfield in Bamako, Mali. The Regiment was participating in Exercise Flintlock 10 in Northern and Western Africa during the month of May. (Photo courtesy of 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment Public Affairs)
 
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