AYEME, Gabon — Barely making a sound, the Gabonese and American soldiers ran through the tall grass, bounding into place to seal off a mock village.
As they settled into position, gunmen burst out from the wood line, firing wildly, sending villagers running and screaming from their homes. The Gabonese and American soldiers fired back, pushing back the intruders and securing the village.
The scenario was only an exercise, but the seamless integration of soldiers from the two armies was apparent, the fruit of two weeks of working, living, training and exercising together as part of Central Accord 2016.
This year's Central Accord, part of the Accord series of exercises, is the largest, most complex exercise the U.S. Army has ever conducted on the African continent and a key part of the Army's efforts to build partnerships in the region.
Almost 1,200 military personnel from 14 nations participated in the annual exercise, which included a three-day field-training exercise with soldiers from the U.S., Gabon, Chad, Cameroon and the Republic of Congo, a command post exercise and multinational airborne operations.
U.S. Army Pvt. 1st Class Jeremy Bielinski (right), an infantryman with 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, assists a Gabonese Soldier with radioing a simulated aeromedical evacuation during this year's Central Accord exercise in Libreville, Gabon on June 17.
Photo Credit: TSgt Brian Kimball/Army
The exercise culminated on Thursday with cordon and search training carried out by soldiers from Gabon and the U.S. Army's 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, which is part of the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
The exercise is so vital to Gabon that the nation's leader, President Ali Bongo Ondimba, visited Ayeme Thursday to inspect the troops, tour the camp and observe the cordon and search training.
For Capt. Clement Nikang, who led a platoon of 27 soldiers from Cameroon, the exercise was an education.
"We learned a lot, [and] that would go ahead to advance our army, give us the skills and tactics to maintain peace and order in our region," Nikang said.
This was Nikang's first experience working with American soldiers.
"They are great," he said. "The American team that was working with us really integrated themselves with my team without any problems. It was awesome."
The Cameroonian army can learn a lot from the U.S. Army, Nikang said.
"This relationship has been so good to us because we learned a lot from them, we interchange culture, knowledge, and since the American army has bigger knowledge, we learn a lot from them, and I think they also learn from us," he said.
With a smile, Nikang said he believes the Americans were surprised by his soldiers' discipline and how quickly they responded to simulated attacks.
He also encouraged other African nations to partner with the Americans.
U.S. Army paratrooper 2nd Lt. Gretchen Maty, assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Infantry Regiment, trains at the Jungle Warfare School in Gabon on June 14.
Photo Credit: Sgt. Henrique Luiz de Holleben/Army
"They lose a lot by not participating," Nikang said. "They should come out and participate. If all of us can come together and learn what the U.S. and U.N. are giving us, one day we will come to a point where we will not touch a single gun, and that would be great."
Sgt. Michael Brosseau and his squad from B Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry, were assigned to work with the Cameroonian platoon.
"The Cameroonian country is one of the most disciplined countries, in my opinion," he said. "They're motivated, disciplined, they maintained sectors of fire."
Working with the Cameroonians was new for Brosseau.
"I was expecting some obstacles getting into the intermingling [of the soldiers], but by the third day, it was as if we were home again," he said. "It was an amazing experience. It just show how fast two countries can come together and operate as one."
Staff Sgt. Robert Gash led the squad that integrated with the platoon from Gabon.
'We're very excited to be here," he said. "We're basically working on exchanging our tactics with their tactics."
At the start of the exercise, the U.S. soldiers worked with the Gabonese on patrolling, civil affairs, receiving supplies by air and running an entry control point.
"That was all pretty new to the Gabonese," Gash said, adding that they were eager to learn from the American soldiers.
"We're very well-versed in our own tactics, and it comes as natural to our soldiers," Gash said. "So they're looking upon us to kind of emulate what the U.S. is doing."
But as the training progressed from the classroom into the field, the Gabonese soldiers surprised Gash, he said.
"They've gone leaps and bounds since they've arrived," he said. "In the beginning it seemed like they were trying to get things together, but from beginning to now, they've improved tremendously."
His own soldiers also gained from the experience, especially as they watched the Gabonese operate deftly in austere environments, Gash said.
"Just watching them and learning from them on their tactics and techniques, a lot of their formations are different than ours, and they operate with very little equipment but they're still able to accomplish their mission," he said.
Gash, who has deployed to Afghanistan, said his experience in Gabon has been invaluable.
"They're an incredible people, and I've developed some really great friendships among the soldiers," he said. "As a squad leader, this has helped me tremendously. Back in the U.S., we work with our own soldiers, we're using one language, they've gone through the same infantry school. Being able to come here and work with another country that hasn't gone through the same training, and to pick it up in only five days and start from point A to Z and accomplish the mission is an incredible leader development piece."
The soldiers also were able to overcome the language barrier — most Gabonese soldiers speak French.
"After working with them day in and day out, you almost kind of adapt a third language, and so we're able to communicate, even if we don't quite understand what we're saying, through body language and hand and arm signals, and we're able to accomplish the mission," he said.
Capt. Murphy Nadio, who led the platoon from the Republic of Congo, also praised the exercise for the lessons it taught his soldiers.
"We really enjoyed it," said Nadio, whose French was translated by Lt. Brave Kilikissa. "We worked with many countries and one squad of U.S. [soldiers] that helped us to improve and do our mission."
The Congolese soldiers value the opportunity to work with U.S. soldiers, Nadio said.
"It's important for us because with them we can gain experience and learn many things that they've done before," he said. "It's very rich to share our experience. If we continue to work together, we will gain many things."
Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.