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 in November.

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Spotlight on: African-American History Month

Three Decorated Guard Regiments Helped Win World War I

ARLINGTON, Va.—Each February, during African-American History Month, the Nation remembers the important contributions African-Americans have made throughout U.S. history.

The National Guard’s history is also replete with examples of African-Americans who served with distinction. A notable example existed within the three National Guard regiments that fought in World War I under the U.S. Army’s 93rd Division: the 369th, 370th, and 372nd Infantry Regiments. 

Although organized as an all-Black division for the war, these regiments did not fight as one. Instead, each was assigned to French divisions, as the French requested the immediate use of American divisions to reinforce the French army. Each of the regiments took part in major combat operations and received battlefield accolades for its service with the French army.

The 369th ‘Harlem Hellfighters’

Probably one of the most famous American Units to emerge from World War I was the 369th Infantry, or “Harlem Hellfighters.”

Organized in the summer of 1916 as a result of State legislation authorizing the formation of a Black National Guard regiment, the 15th Infantry, New York National Guard, was called into Federal service in July 1917 and ordered to France. After three attempts to cross the Atlantic, the 15th landed in France in December 1917 and discovered it had been redesignated as the 369th Infantry Regiment. After being attached to the French army for training, it was assigned to the 161st Infantry Division of the French army.

The regiment took part in major operations in the Champagne-Marne, Meuse-Argonne, Champagne, and Alsace campaigns – campaigns where front lines were retaken or German attacks were thwarted.

Overall, the regiment spent 191 days in the front-line trenches. For its actions, the 369th was cited 11 times for bravery and was decorated with the French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star for service during the Meuse-Argonne campaign.

In addition to having the unique distinction of receiving three nicknames: “Harlem Hellfighters,” “Men of Bronze,” and the “Black Watch,” the 369th’s regimental band was well known throughout Europe for its concerts and is credited with introducing American jazz to Europe.

Since World War I, the 369th underwent several reorganizations and is known today as New York National Guard’s Headquarters Company, 369th Sustainment Brigade.

The 370th ‘Black Devils’

Although redesignated as the 370th Infantry Regiment during World War I, the Unit’s history begins nearly 20 years before entry into the war. Initially organized in 1895 as the 9th Battalion Infantry, the all-Black National Guard Unit was redesignated as the 8th Illinois Infantry in 1898. After Federal service in the Spanish-American war, the Unit was called again in 1916 for service on the Mexican Border.

As the 370th was assigned to the 93rd Division in 1917, the regiment arrived in France in April 1918. It was ultimately assigned to the French 59th Division, which took part in the Oise-Aisne offensive where the Germans abandoned their defensive lines.

The 370th had the distinction of being the only Black regiment completely staffed with Black officers. For its actions during the war, members received 21 Distinguished Service Crosses, 1 Distinguished Service Medal, and 68 Croix de Guerre.

After World War I, the regiment reorganized and is known today as the Illinois National Guard’s 178th Infantry.

The 372nd Infantry

National Guard units from Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia that had been organized in the 1880s made up the 372nd Infantry Regiment, which was organized in 1917.

Upon its arrival in France, the 372nd was similarly attached to French army divisions for training before being assigned to a division – the well-known French 157th “Red Hand” Infantry Division – and took part in the Meuse-Argonne, Lorraine, and Alsace campaigns.

Members of the regiment had the distinguished record of never surrendering or retreating, and their participation in the Meuse-Argonne advance was decisive in ending the war after members of the 372nd were credited with taking nearly 600 prisoners and securing large quantities of engineering supplies and artillery ammunition.

For its actions during the Meuse-Argonne, the regiment was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm.

Although the regiment was deactivated after World War II, the 372nd is perpetuated by the Ohio National Guard’s 237th Support Battalion and the District of Columbia’s 372nd Military Police Battalion.

The National Guard, 100 years later

Almost 100 years after World War I, the Guard is still deploying overseas to protect and defend America and her allies. But the mission doesn’t end there for this part-time branch of the military. The Guard also serves the community, responding to domestic emergencies like hurricanes and wildfires, and protecting citizens during high-profile events like the recent Presidential Inauguration.

National Guard Soldiers train for a career in one of more than 150 fields, including intelligence, military police, logistics, infantry, and more. Soldiers can build on that training by attending college or vocational school using the Guard’s education benefits.

So if you’re interested in a job that makes a difference, visit our job board for details on each career field and contact a recruiter today.

From an original article by SSG Michelle Gonzalez, National Guard Bureau, which appeared in the special features section of

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Guard Spotlight: Illinois

Guard Soldier’s Invention Has Army-Wide Impact

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – A Soldier with the Illinois Army National Guard has invented a device that improves Soldier safety and equipment longevity, and has recently been adopted Army-wide.

Sergeant (SGT) Wesley Todd, a machinist with the Illinois Army National Guard’s Combined Support Maintenance Shop at North Riverside Armory in North Riverside, Ill., has designed and fabricated a tool that makes removing a seized howitzer muzzle brake easier and safer for Soldiers when they make repairs or perform maintenance tasks on the guns.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CW2) Steve Murphy, armament supervisor at the maintenance shop, said SGT Todd took it upon himself to create the device when he saw Soldiers struggling to remove a seized muzzle brake on a light howitzer.

“It can be very difficult to remove the muzzle brake,” said CW2 Murphy. “They sometimes seize up in varying weather conditions.”

SGT Wesley Todd of the Illinois Army National Guard checks the measurements on a device he invented that makes removing a seized howitzer muzzle brake easier and safer for Soldiers when they perform repairs or maintenance on the guns. The device has been adopted by the Army, and is scheduled to be manufactured and distributed to maintenance organizations Army-wide. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Adams)

SGT Todd’s device allows Soldiers to apply enough force to remove a seized muzzle brake, but in a way that doesn’t damage the gun tube or its rifling grooves.

Soldiers would normally use sledgehammers to free a seized muzzle brake, which often resulted in additional damage to the muzzle brake, and had the potential to damage other parts as well, said CW2 Murphy, adding that just the gun tube of a howitzer can cost more than $265,000.

“Using this device instead of a sledgehammer has and will continue to keep the Soldier safer when working on the equipment,” said CW2 Murphy. “The device has also made the process much faster.”

SGT Todd, who has worked as a machinist at the shop for three years, said he normally repairs damaged parts and makes new parts for military vehicles and equipment.

“It’s an honor to know I improved the Army in a small way,” he said.

After review of the device, it was approved and scheduled for Army-wide implementation by the end of the year.

“This Soldier’s invention will increase safety and save the entire Army hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment parts and repair time,” said Army Maj. Gen. (MG) Richard J. Hayes, adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard. “These are resources that will now be able to be devoted to other U.S. Army priorities.”

For MG Hayes, it serves as an example of leadership and initiative.  

“SGT Todd has shown how a single Illinois Army National Guard Soldier can improve a process for the entire Army, and his leadership has shown us a great example of how to listen to your Soldiers’ ideas and help them implement positive changes,” he said. 

Despite the invention’s big impact, Todd said it was just another day’s work. 

“Making things is a part of my job,” he said. “This is by far the most impactful thing I have ever made, though.”

So if you’re interested in making an impact as a Soldier, whether it’s to help your fellow Soldiers, help your country or your local community, learn more about Guard careers on our job board, where you will find more than 150 options. Contact your local recruiter for specifics on jobs that interest you, and find out about the benefits of this part-time service.

From original article by Staff Sgt. Robert Adams, Illinois Army National Guard, which appeared in September 2016 in the news section of


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