By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Fred Gray IV
Their day begins like any other day.
The sun barely breaks the horizon as they inspect their uniform, lace up their boots, and head to assigned posts in the early hours of the morning.
As the sun beams down from the equatorial African sun, beads of sweat steadily begin to drip down their faces as they stand their watch. Unmoved by the rising heat, they reach into their pocket and pull out a rag to wipe the sweat off their brow. They remain focused and ready to meet the day’s objective: conquering the largest maritime exercise in West Africa.
In the past, some would say they do not belong. Yet, despite those past notions, these women only feel the pride of exemplifying the very embodiment of military honor, courage, and sacrifice.
The women serving within the participating nations in Exercise Obangame Express 2021 (OE21) represent only a small number in a growing community of women in the armed forces.
OE21 is the largest multinational maritime exercise sponsored by the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and was hosted this year in Accra, Ghana. The event encompassed an array of interoperability evolutions designed to enhance maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea and strengthen relationships with partner nations.
“Being a woman taking part in Obangame Express allows me to project power and enforce peace,” said Ghanaian Navy’s Able Seaman 2 Amegashie Vera, a clerk and gate sentry at Ghana’s Eastern Naval Command. “Women in Ghana and around the world should always feel proud, confident, and be bold enough to be part of the military … I want [other women] to look at me as an example.”
Historically, the armed forces have been composed of mostly men, but in recent years more countries are beginning to welcome women into the military.
“Countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are afforded equal rights and opportunities, which includes serving in meaningful ways within their country's defense and security sector,” said Patricia Stolz, government co-lead for WPS at AFRICOM. “Integrating the perspectives, experiences, and capabilities of women into exercises such as Obangame Express ensures that participating countries have 50% greater insight, perspectives, and capabilities than those that do not incorporate women.”
One of the WPS implementation objectives at AFRICOM is to have women in partner nations meaningfully participate and serve at all ranks and in all occupations in the defense and security sectors. One of the foundational aspects of WPS is the recognition that women bear more of the societal impact in armed conflicts. The resolution aims to bring more women into decision-making roles and improve military environments.
“Our [women in the military] role when it comes to peacekeeping is a little more in-depth,” said Ghanaian Lt. Audry Araba Quansah, operations liaison officer for OE21. “In Ghana, women are seen as more relatable to the population and are often called upon to communicate with the civilians because they can foster a greater understanding and provide a broader impact.”
Since 2011, U.S. Africa Command has worked to integrate the Women, Peace, and Security mandate in its activities with African security forces.
“Women in Ghana and around the world should always feel proud, confident and be bold enough to be part of the military,” Vera said. “I want them (women) to look at me as an example.”
Obangame Express, conducted by U.S. Naval Forces Africa, is an at-sea maritime exercise designed to improve cooperation among participating nations in order to increase maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea and West Africa coastal regions.