Posts Tagged ‘africa’

Stuttgart Flag Football Team Takes Season and Tournament Championship

November 3, 2011

Commander Matt Anderson of U.S. Africa Command wrote:

This week AFRICOM HQ won the Unit Level Regular Season and Tournament Flag Football Championship for the U.S. Army Garrison in Stuttgart, Germany.

The team finished the regular season with a 4-1 record, then rolled through the double-elimination tournament with a 4-1 record claiming both the regular season and tournament trophies for AFRICOM.

The season’s performance was highlighted by a tremendous team defense which allowed less than 7 points per game.  Compound the defense with an offense that averaged 18 points a game, and the outcome was often decisive, with six of the 10 games ending with a “mercy rule” designation.  Execution was the key to success, as AFRICOM fielded an “experienced” team, with the average age over 36 years old and five starters in their 40’s. 

This is not meant to say that the success of the team was easy. With temporary duty, travel, leave, and injuries there were lots of holes that needed filling before each game, even in the championship game. However, it was a testament to the entire AFRICOM Command that so many civilians, contractors, and active duty personnel found a way to modify, improvise, adapt and overcome these difficulties and still win decisively. 

The defense was anchored by two players. Sergeant First Class “I got your flags right here” Nakia Maxon, was the league’s most prolific pass rusher, averaging more than three sacks per game, while Tony “That’s another INT” Thompson flew around the field making interceptions all season long. 

On offense, Rob Cassube was “Kellen Moore-esque” with his accuracy and overcame a lingering shoulder injury to pick apart opposing defenses and lead the league in total points scored. Rob “I’m still open deep” Smith and Lieutenant Corbin “Get the Man a Red Cape” Dryden, rounded out the team’s top three scorers by finding ways to get open and make the tough catches all season long. 

In the end, the flag football team offered a great opportunity for civilians, contractors, and military personnel to come together, work together, and achieve week after week, while overcoming all sorts of challenges. While there was certainly a tremendous amount of individual talent on the field, it was the teamwork that led to the Championship for AFRICOM.

Visit us at



West African Rhythms

March 30, 2011

Deborah Robin Croft, U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs Office

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


 Mbalax (or Mbalakh), is the national dance music of Senegal and Gambia, and you can hear it swirling in the air wherever you go in these West African countries.  During a whirlwind three-country visit to Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia, we had a chance to hear some of this music that was traditionally only sung by the Griots–combination mistrels-folksingers-oral historians–who played their special stringed instruments and sing in their native language, Wolof, to the accompaniment of the riti, balafon, tama and sabar drums. While in Senegal, I had the opportunity to visit a restaurant/art gallery where an excellent Griot musician interwove each of the names of our small entourage,  into an ancient serenade while we ate fresh Senegalese seafood.  

 Later, we went to the local Mali Market in Dakar, where we saw vendors plying all kinds of handmade wood carvings, colorful traditional fabrics, and beaded jewelry.  Of course, haggling is de’riguer for those of us who want to fit into the ways of the Senegalese people.  Everyone bargains in the marketplace.

After Senegal, we flew to Guinea-Bissau and heard Portuguese spoken as the main language.  Of course, the Portuguese also have a talent with cuisine so some of us had the Portuguese Steak with an egg on top. One of the secrets to Guinea-Bissau’s wonderful flavors is their fresh, local produce. One of their crop staples and main exports to India is the cashew nut.

After taking off and flying from Guinea-Bissau,  we went to see the Gambia. In the Gambia, we went to a local hospital in Banjul where the U.S. non-profit organization, Mercy Ships at has been working with their all volunteer medical staff, to repair the cleft palates and cleft lips of mostly children. The doctors perform about two surgeries per day, not only putting a smile on these young patients’ faces, but changing their lives for the better.

After visiting the hospital, we had lunch at the residence of the US Ambassador for The Gambia, Pamela White. I wish I could say we had a dip in the Oceanside pool, but we had to fly back to Senegal instead.

Visit us at

Lagos Nigeria Travel Blog

February 7, 2011

Deborah Robin Croft wrote


Deborah Robin Croft, a member of U.S. Africa Command’s Public Affairs Office, is on temporary assignment in Abuja, Nigeria working at the U.S. Embassy.


Recently, during my TDY at the US Embassy in Nigeria, I had the chance to go to Lagos for a few days. Abuja is a planned city and was declared to be the capital of Nigeria in 1991. The streets are wide and there are median strips between the lanes with planters and trees and grass. The buildings are well built with architectural flourishes and there is quite a lot of green space around these buildings. There is even a natural landmark, Aso Rock, on the north western border of the city and Abuja is surrounded by rolling hills and has creeks and streams running through its center.

Not so in Lagos. Although Lagos is on the coast and there are coastal vistas as far as the eye can see on the southern end of the city, Lagos is a huge, sprawling urbanization with smoke and smog filled air, limiting visibility even on a sunny day. Another major problem for the almost 8 million inhabitants is the unrelenting traffic that clogs all of the roadways of the city from 7 AM until well after 7 PM daily.

As an American diplomat, my mobility was restricted to Victoria Island and I was allowed on Lagos mainland only to go to and from the airport. During my short stay however, I was able to convince the embassy drivers to take me to several areas where I could stick my head out of the window and shoot a few pictures from an overpass. We were able to go to one of the neighborhood markets as well but only for a very brief time. What I saw was both vibrant and inspiring and in some cases, deeply sobering. Here are some pictures of Lagos from my recent trip.

See also: Volunteering in Abuja, Nigeria Over the Holidays

Visit us at

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Colorful, Vibrant Nigeria

December 10, 2010

Deborah Robin Croft wrote

As we were flying over Nigeria, I couldn’t believe the diversity of the landscape below me. First, flying over the Northern part of the country, the desert below stretched endlessly for hours during the flight, with vast tan and ochre expanses sprinkled with ant-sized communities of human habitation. Slowly, the terrain became hillier and greener. Finally, muddy, rain-swollen rivers and pockets of water that must be lakes appeared. But the country is enormous and the flight seemed never-ending. When we finally stepped out of the plane, we were greeted by torrential rains because, at the end of October, it was still the tail-end of the rainy season.

It’s wonderful how green the planned capitol city of Abuja, Nigeria is during the rainy season.

Nigeria has many different tribes with their own languages. Some examples are the Yoruba in the northern part of the country and the Ibo in the South. One Saturday, our team at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja took a field trip to the Nike (pronounced Nee-Kay) Art Center where we were treated to a performance of traditional dances.
Nike is a famous artist in Nigeria. She is known for her hand-dyed cloth creations. So, our group of 20 had a class in tie-dye using dyes made from indigo, ground bark and vegetables. Nike’s artisans also showed us how to do wax paintings on the cloth using bird feathers as paint brushes.

In the month of November, right before Thanksgiving, the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Terence P. McCulley, traveled to several northern Nigerian towns to meet with local officials and leaders and to visit some USAID-Nigeria partnership projects. The experience was extremely rewarding and some of these projects are producing excellent results in fields as important and diverse as human health, international trade, and education. The best thing about Nigeria for me however, is the warm and vibrant culture and people.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Visit us at

Supporting Shared Accord in Mozambique

July 26, 2010

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On 7/26/2010 9:18:42 AM
Sergeant Lydia Davey, Marine Forces Africa wrote

I thought I knew what to expect from the continent of Africa. Granted, my feet have only touched soil in seven countries here, but somehow I felt that I had it all figured out. However, Mozambique is full of surprises and newness.

The first surprise was the weather. I disembarked from the small aircraft yesterday morning into what can best be described as a tropic chill. Winter along the coast of southern Africa consists of temperatures typically ranging from 50-85 degrees Fahrenheit, and yesterday’s cool morning air begged for a jacket. No hot weather here.

The second surprise was the easy fusion of Portuguese and African styles in food, language and architecture. Although Mozambique gained its independence from Portugal more than thirty years ago, this place has certainly retained elements of that influence. Portuguese is still spoken here, the food has a distinctly Mediterranean flair (lots of grilled fish, simply prepared vegetables, and fresh fruit), and many of the homes and buildings here are constructed with red tile roofs and beautifully worked wrought iron.

Today’s events included a military brief to members of the local press about an upcoming combined exercise, SHARED ACCORD. One of the things I love about being a journalist is the sense of community that exists within our world. As U.S. and Mozambique military leaders spoke, the photographers, writers and videographers moved effortlessly around each other. With facial expressions and improvised sign language, we easily communicate our need for certain shots or angles. It didn’t matter that I don’t understand Portuguese, or that they might not speak English. We all had the same mission and a similar understanding of the courtesy and effort required to make that mission successful. That type of understanding is what I believe SHARED ACCORD will provide for Mozambique and the U.S. during the coming weeks.

Visit us at

“This Time for Africa”: Soccer, Food, and Voodoo

June 22, 2010

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Danielle Skinner, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs Office, is blogging from Cotonou, Benin while supporting a pandemic response exercise which brings together representatives from 15 African nations to collaborate on the development of local, national, and regional disaster response plans.

World Cup Fever

Awoken in the middle of the night to the sounds of Shakira’s “Waka Waka” song (This Time for Africa) I groggily walked to the window and saw a group of Africans dancing in the parking lot with the now-famous World Cup theme song blasting from their car radio.  They looked like they were having so much fun, I couldn’t even be annoyed at being woken up.

I am currently in Cotonou, Benin for U.S. Africa Command’s Pandemic Response exercise, the first one in West Africa. Civilian and military participants from 15 African countries will work together throughout the week to develop and assess their local, national, and regional plans for a potential pandemic disaster. I came a few days before the conference to get settled in and participate in a pre-exercise just for members of the Benin Armed Forces.

It is a wonderful experience to be in Africa at the time of its first World Cup. While Benin may be separated geographically from the activities in South Africa, they are certainly not excluded from the hype.  TVs at hotels, bars, and restaurants are displaying live soccer games or recaps of games and vendors are selling world cup paraphernalia.

On the way here, I noticed that the airports were also filled with people donning their favorite country’s flags and singing songs. I have never been a big fan of soccer (or “football” to the rest of the world) but the excitement here is contagious and I can’t help finding myself drawn in.

Spaghetti and more

Eating breakfast Saturday with a member of the Benin Army, I had to laugh when I asked him what kinds of food are unique to Benin. The first food he listed was spaghetti.  I told him, ” I always thought that was more of an Italian dish.” He explained that they make their spaghetti a special way with various spices added to it.  Since then I have noticed that spaghetti does seem to be a very popular dish here, and I have had at least one spaghetti dish each day so far.

Besides spaghetti, Benin’s staple foods are yams, rice, and corn.  I got to experience the local food when we visited the house of Firmine, U.S. Africa Command’s in-country representative for the Embassy’s Office of Security Cooperation.  Firmine is a local national who has worked at the U.S. Embassy for more than 20 years. She is such an interesting person and I enjoyed learning about the local culture from her.  She truly put together a feast for us!  We had beans with a tomato paste (a little spicy) and a flour powder that you sprinkle on top.  We also had pate, a paste made from cornmeal which is another staple meal in Benin.  The traditional way to eat pate is to use your fingers, rolling the pate into a ball and eating it with spinach or other greens.  She also served fish and fried chicken. Although I was stuffed after the first plate, I found myself going up for seconds. Delicious!

It was a really memorable night that we spent talking, eating, and watching Cameroon and Denmark compete in the World Cup.  Firmine recommended visiting a Voodoo village about an hour from Cotonou.  We took her advice and planned a daytrip on Sunday, our free day, to explore the birthplace of Voodoo and take a historical journey along the slave route used to transport slaves from Africa to the Americas.

Voodoo Village

When Americans think of “Voodoo” we associate it with something evil or cultish, sensationalized by Hollywood to include casting evil spells with the use of voodoo dolls.  I learned that voodoo actually originated in Benin and is an ancient religion practiced by approximately 60 percent of the population in Benin. Contrary to popular belief, voodoo is a peaceful religion centering around the veneration of ancestors.  According to my tour guide, the voodoo religion should only be practiced for good, never for evil.  Those who practice voodoo believe that life derives from the forces of nature: earth, water, fire, and air.

The birthplace of voodoo is a town in Benin called Ouidah, a former slave port on the Atlantic Ocean.  Our first stop was the Python Temple, a voodoo temple filled with pythons, which are sacred in Benin. I had the chance to hold one around my neck, which was a bit unnerving, but we were told it was a “friendly python.” The people in Ouidah believe the pythons protect the village and act as intermediaries between the physical and spiritual world. In return for this protection, people protect the pythons and allow them to roam freely.

We also visited the Sacred Forest where ancient trees are preserved as well as ancient statues representing the voodoo deities. Our guide explained that according to legend, the king of the voodoo gods never died, but took the form of a tree. He then invited us to touch the tree and make a wish (only good wishes allowed).

Voodoo was brought to the Americas by slaves from Benin. We traveled about four kilometers on the road that was used to transport the slaves to a beach area where they were shipped to Senegal. In Senegal, slaves were consolidated and packed onto ships headed to South America.

It was a somber part of the tour learning about the terrible conditions the slaves were forced to endure.  We saw the Memorial of Remembrance, a large wall with images telling the history of slavery in Benin. We also walked through the “Gate of No Return,” a monument separating the beach from the road in remembrance of the thousands of slaves who walked through there.

Benin or Venice?

One thing I haven’t yet mentioned is that it is the rainy season in Benin.  It doesn’t just rain, it pours for hours every day causing extreme flooding throughout the region. We were caught in the rain the entire time of our tour, which is why we look like drowned rats in some of our photos.

On the way back from Ouidah, we drove on streets that looked more like rivers, with people wading knee-deep in water in some places.  The water rose all the way to the door-level of houses reminding me of the canals in Venice, Italy.  I am told the flooding happens in Benin every other year, and it is unfortunately very hard on the people, displacing many of them from their homes.

That brings me back to the purpose of my trip in Benin–to attend a conference on pandemic disaster response.  I hope that the lessons learned by the Benin military and civilian representatives during this week will help prepare them for all kinds of emergencies–not only pandemics but flooding and other natural disasters.  It is great to see so many people from different countries, backgrounds, and jobs collaborating towards one common goal–enhancing Benin’s capability to respond to complex humanitarian emergencies.

I look forward to seeing all that is accomplished by the end of the week!