North Dakota Guard Soldier Gives Back to His Former School in Ghana

SPC Dennis Duku hands out backpacks to schoolchildren at the Dadwen Schools Complex in western Ghana, which he attended years ago. (Photo by AFRICOM.)

SPC Dennis Duku hands out backpacks to schoolchildren at the Dadwen Schools Complex in western Ghana, which he attended years ago. (Photo by AFRICOM.)

ACCRA, Ghana — When he first left Ghana for the United States at age 20, Specialist (SPC) Dennis Duku had no idea that his life would come full circle. Or that he would find himself giving back to his elementary school, a place that helped him become who he is today: a Soldier in the North Dakota Army National Guard.

The story began in 2008 when SPC Duku and his family left Ghana to join his father who was living in Virginia to finish his education. When the family later moved to Moorhead, Minnesota, SPC Duku decided to join the Army National Guard.

“I always knew I wanted to join the military,” he says. “I joined the North Dakota National Guard after I found out I could serve my country, my State, and still work full time.”

SPC Duku joined the 188th Engineer Company, out of Wahpeton, as a heavy equipment operator and plumber.

He later learned about the State Partnership Program (SPP) between the North Dakota Guard and the West African countries of Ghana, Togo, and Benin. An opportunity to visit Ghana came when his unit was chosen to participate in United Accord, a multinational joint exercise designed so the U.S. and its African partners could train together and build readiness across 22 different countries.

“When I found out it was my team that was going, I wondered if I could do something for my people,” says SPC Duku.

He spoke to his wife (also from Ghana) and they decided to purchase backpacks and crayons for the students at his old school – 400 backpacks to be exact. When packed, the items filled 12 suitcases.

“I learned that when I travel on official capacity (in the military), I can have up to five pieces of luggage. That’s when I needed to ask others to help me with the remaining seven.”

His fellow members in the 188th Engineer Company were more than happy to help with anything they could. One of those Soldiers was Sergeant (SSG) Rachelle Barendt Klein, a squad leader in the unit, who first heard about what SPC Duku was doing when he was unloading the extra bags at the armory.

“The unit was supportive. They helped load and unload the extra bags and haul them through the airport,” says SSG Klein. “The suitcases were packed light, so they could check the bags without paying the airport fees. SPC Duku and the rest of us spread and shared his story, with pride, when anyone in line would ask.”

Once in Ghana, the entire company wanted to help at the school, but logistically, it was going to be more challenging than expected. In the end, a team of three made the trip.

“Everyone wanted to come with me. I was overwhelmed; I wanted to help my school, and everyone in my unit wanted to help my school, too. It was really surprising to me. I was really excited,” says SPC Duku.

It was about a six-hour drive to SPC Duku’s school, Dadwen Schools Complex, in the western part of Ghana. When the team arrived, they were greeted by Ghana’s municipal chief executive and hundreds of excited school children.

“The level of excitement was surreal,” says SSG Klein. “I look back and I am not sure who was more excited – us or the kids. SPC Duku talked to the kids, old classmates, and teachers. School songs were sung, (there were) prayers, hugs, so many smiles, happy tears. SPC Duku was so humble. He repeatedly pointed out how he just wanted to give back.”

The children at the school were walking a very long distance to use the washroom, so SPC Duku bought and donated 100 bags of cement to begin construction of a new washroom closer to the classrooms.

“In terms of class, my school would be considered third-class,” says SPC Duku. “They lack certain things. They have good infrastructure, but as far as student amenities, they do not have basic things. I left there [Ghana] in 2003 and have never been back since. When I saw it again, it was the same as when I was there. Nothing had changed in those years. It looked like no one was helping. I became the local hero; they were really happy to see me and my guys.”

During the same trip, SPC Duku’s unit, with the help of Soldiers from the 353rd Civil Affairs Command, Ghana Armed Forces, and the Royal Netherlands Army, also built and donated 40 desks to L&A Memorial Academy, another school in Accra, Ghana.

Giving back is one of the many benefits to joining the Army National Guard. Other benefits include education assistance and the ability to serve part-time in a job (Military Occupational Specialty) of your choice. If you’re passionate about making a difference in your State and country, contact your local recruiter for more information.

From an original article by MAJ Amber Schatz, Joint Force Headquarters, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in November.

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Guard Soldier Breaks the Mold and Does it All

SPC Arshia Gill prepares a door for a breaching exercise on a demolitions range at the Yakima Training Center during her unit’s annual training.

SPC Arshia Gill prepares a door for a breaching exercise on a demolitions range at the Yakima Training Center during her unit’s annual training. (Photo by SGT David Carnahan.)

CAMP MURRAY, Wash. – Specialist (SPC) Arshia Gill is breaking the mold and has become one of the many new female Soldiers stepping into combat military occupational specialties (MOSs).

But, for SPC Gill, she’s become more than just a trailblazer – she’s an engineer, a student, and a Soldier all wrapped into one. SPC Gill is a 12B Combat Engineer with Alpha Company, 898 Brigade Engineer Battalion, 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team in the Washington Army National Guard.

“If a I had an opportunity to do this all over again, even though it’s very difficult managing it, I definitely would; it’s a cool experience,” says SPC Gill.

“She’s always the first one wanting to learn and go do something,” added Sergeant (SGT) Jason Longmire with Alpha Company, 898 Brigade Engineer Battalion, 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team. “We were doing urban breaching [training] yesterday and she was right there, right next to the door, maybe five or 10 feet away holding the blast blanket so that no one got hurt.”

SPC Gill’s company commander, Captain (CPT) Brandon Buehler, describes her as a warrior and a true combat engineer. Combat engineers are expected to be able to build structures, operate explosives, and do the appropriate mathematics to ensure that both are done correctly.

When she’s not at drill, SPC Gill is a full-time student at the University of Puget Sound. The two lifestyles are night and day. Her school’s trim and manicured campus is a world away from the hot and dusty field at the Yakima Training Center. Transitioning back and forth can be challenging.

“If I have a weekend off, I usually visit home and my family,” SPC Gill says. “That usually puts me back on my feet if I’m having a tough time.”

Family is a big motivator for her.

“Most of the men in my family have served in different armies around the world, and I am the first in my generation, and also the first female [Soldier] in my family.”

In January 2016, the Department of Defense opened all military occupational specialties to women. 

“I was a little scared after basic because drill sergeants try to freak you out about being one of the first women in a combat MOS that just opened up,” SPC Gill says. “[I heard] a lot about being able to carry your own weight, and I pride myself in being able to do that.”

SPC Gill was nervous about arriving in her first unit, but that concern went away when she got to know her new teammates.

“I honestly feel blessed to be in this unit,” she says. “I’m just really happy that I got placed with some of the men that are in this unit because they’re very respectful, and the transition was very easy. I didn’t feel like there were any bumps in the road or anything like that.”

So if you’re looking to join a team that has your back no matter what, consider joining the Army National Guard. You’ll serve part-time and close to home, which will allow you, like SPC Gill, to focus on other things, too, like going to college or working in a civilian career.

Besides flexibility, the Guard also offers fantastic education benefits and training in jobs that range from engineering to infantry to intelligence and more. See our job board to learn more, and contact your local recruiter for details.

From an original story by SPC Alec Dionne, 122nd Public Affairs Operations Center, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in July.

 

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Kansas Guard Provides Humanitarian Support During Golden Coyote

RED SHIRT, S.D. – Soldiers from the Kansas Army National Guard and Army Reserve units worked with Task Force 38, Canadian Army, to provide humanitarian support to Native American reservations throughout South Dakota during the Golden Coyote training exercise last month.

The annual timber haul operation provides an opportunity for military forces to use their training and experience while supporting local Native American communities.

“This mission is really important because it builds relationships between the Native American communities and the National Guard units that support the mission,” says Sergeant (SGT) Shaun Phillips, an 88M Truck Driver with the 137th Transportation Company, Kansas National Guard.

The 137th coordinated with the other units to load timber at a site near Custer, S.D. The timber was then delivered to multiple sites on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations.

“It’s great to help other communities, and this kind of mission is very similar to the missions we could be tasked with overseas,” says Specialist William Curtin, 137th truck driver.

Soldiers from the 137th Transportation Company, Kansas Army National Guard, loosen straps on a load of timber at Red Shirt, S.D., during the annual timber haul operation as part of the Golden Coyote training exercise. (Photo by Sgt. Kristin Lichius.)

Soldiers from the 137th Transportation Company, Kansas Army National Guard, loosen straps on a load of timber at Red Shirt, S.D., during the annual timber haul operation as part of the Golden Coyote training exercise. (Photo by Sgt. Kristin Lichius.)

The humanitarian support benefits the community members and provides new training experiences for Soldiers.

“There are narrow, winding roads and various terrain conditions here that provide experience for our drivers and prepares us for different environments,” says SGT Phillips. “We’re able to practice improvising different kinds of loads safely, using our equipment and operating as a team.”

Throughout the Golden Coyote training exercise, about 200 loads of timber were scheduled to be delivered to the local communities.

“It’s a good thing, it helps this community and other surrounding communities that need this wood,” says Peter Bissonette, a resident from Red Shirt.

The wood is often used for construction, heating, cooking, and ceremonies throughout the year.

“This is the unit’s third year participating in this mission, and it’s rewarding to give back to the communities,” says SGT Phillips.

If you are interested in joining the Army National Guard to serve your community and Nation part-time, there are many career options available. The Guard offers more than 150 careers, including those in infantry, transportation, and engineering. You can check out the full roster of opportunities on our job board. Make sure you have a look at the Guard’s benefits, including money for college.

From an original story by SGT Kristin Lichius,129th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, which originally appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in June 2018.

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