NEWS | March 20, 2019

Atlanta Sailors Bring Expertise To African Anti-Piracy Efforts

By Maj. Brett Walker, 65th Press Camp Headquarters, Massachusetts Army National Guard

Two U.S. Navy sailors returned to their birth homes in West Africa to support a multinational naval exercise in March. Petty Officers 1st Class David Ampofo and Kasali Sholarin are both U.S. Navy reservists who immigrated to the United States in the mid-1980’s. They now tally 34 years of military service between the two of them.
Ampofo was born in Ghana where he took a job with the U.S. Department of State. He then married a U.S. citizen he met through work and moved to the U.S. a few years later. Sholarin was born in Nigeria and moved to the United States to attend college.
“What they need in Africa is diplomacy, defense and democracy,” said Ampofo. Given his 12 years working with the State Department, 18 years of navy service and two masters degrees, these are subjects on which he has some knowledge. Ampofo notes that he has lived under African and American forms of democratic government.
“Africa is the continent I came from,” said Ampofo. “If I need to help or defend them, I know that being with the U.S. military can do that.”
Ampofo is now serving in Lagos, Nigeria, the largest city in West Africa. It is a port city and host to a sizeable portion of the Nigerian Navy. He is providing information technology support to Obangame Express 2019.
Obangame Express 2019, organized by the U.S. Navy, is a maritime security exercise with 33 participating nations maneuvering across 2.3 million square kilometers of sea in the Gulf of Guinea. The focus of the exercise is disrupting piracy, illegal fishing, and trafficking in contraband.
Sholarin who works alongside Ampofo providing information technology support to the exercise noted, “I want the opportunity to see Nigerian sailors and be a mentor to some of them and to show them that hard work pays.”
By participating in Obangame Express 2019, he is able to return to Nigeria and work with its Navy. This is the second consecutive year he has participated in the event.
“The Nigerian Navy is a more professional force than when I left,” said Sholarin. “They have more equipment, ships and more attack helicopters.”
While on duty in Nigeria, Sholarin is restricted to designated work and lodging sites. However, his family is able to visit with him.
At his Atlanta home, Sholarin is a real estate agent and he also owns a check-cashing business. He joined the U.S. Navy 16 years ago to serve what he refers to as his “adopted country.”
“The best part of the Navy is traveling around the world, and training and mentoring junior sailors,” said Sholarin. His Navy service has brought him to ten countries.
The Nigerian Navy, which is hosting Obangame Express 2019, does not afford the same opportunities to travel around the world; Nigerian ships rarely leave West African waters. Nevertheless, it is the largest and most active maritime defense force in West Africa. Nigeria tasked eight ships to Obangame Express 2019.
Ghana, Ampofo’s original home, tasked two ships to Obangame Express 2019 along with some smaller patrol boats and aircraft. Though he never served in the Ghanaian military, Ampofo joined the U.S. Navy 18 years ago.
“I researched all the military branches and the Navy was the one I felt was best for me,” said Ampofo. “With the Navy, you are closer to everyone and you carry the warriors to a place. I liked that the Navy moves around all the time and helps people.”
Sailors like Ampofo and Sholarin represent the diversity within the U.S. military that allows it to operate across the globe. Their expertise in local customs and personalities facilitate the success of exercises such as Obangame Express. Both Ampofo and Sholarin live in Atlanta and intend to retire in the country who’s military they have served, collectively, in excess of three decades and counting.