DODJI, Senegal -- The sound of construction progress will soon be replaced by the voices of Senegalese soldiers at Dodji Peacekeeping Operations Training Center.
Representatives from the Senegalese army, U.S. Embassy Senegal and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District visited the Dodji PKO project site Aug. 20 to inspect construction work by contractor, CNaf-SET.
The existing PKO training camp is being upgraded to include eight new barracks, a dining facility, shower and latrine facilities for men and women, septic tanks, a water treatment plant and a well. The turnkey facilities will accommodate and supply 1,000 soldiers upon completion in mid-September. The project, funded by U.S. Department of State Global Peace Operations Initiative, supports the development of Senegalese military capabilities to train a battalion at a time for deployment. At Dodji, troops train for peacekeeping missions in Darfur, assisting the UN-African Union hybrid operations there.
Capt. Samba Ndiaye, a Senegalese army national training center leader, said these new facilities are very important to the growth and progress of the military. The army plans to conduct a significantly larger portion of pre-deployment training--land navigation, convoy escorts, ambushes and live fire exercises--now that upgraded support infrastructure is in place, he said.
"For the last few years, I led a company, training in Dodji every four months," Ndiaye said. "We train very hard during the day there. If [the soldiers] have an opportunity to be in their rooms at night, in good conditions, to regenerate energy, they will be more available to do their jobs the next day."
Currently, enlisted soldiers bunk in basic, cinder block barracks covered by metal roofs. In hot climates, like Africa, metal roofs are not ideal. Without proper ventilation, they emit a great amount of heat on the living space and occupants below. To complicate matters, windows on the existing barracks are scarce and small, allowing for little air ventilation or light.
In contrast, the nearly complete barracks are modern, prefabricated, steel structures, said Marcelo Maier, a USACE Europe District project engineer.
"When the project first kicked off, the Senegalese were skeptical about metal buildings. From their experience, metal roofs created unbearably hot living quarters," Maier said.
But the exterior and roof of each new building is white, a "cool" color used to combat extreme heat in the region. Average temperatures in Dodji reach 90 to 100 degrees and dark metal roofs get as hot as 170 to 190 degrees, research suggests. Thick insulation and proper ventilation also cool the buildings using natural air flow. The new cooler barracks will help soldiers sleep more comfortably, planners hope. In addition, screens installed in the windows will prevent bugs, especially mosquitoes, from bothering the soldiers at night.
"They need these facilities in comparison to the existing ones," said Nuri Gultepe, a general manager for CNaf-SET. "The climate here is very, very difficult. It has been raining heavily for a month, before that it was very hot. They also have sandstorms and humidity to deal with."
The environment here is unforgiving, yet exercises and preparation must take place. As a Senegalese officer, Ndiaye said his job is to take care of the soldiers training at Dodji.
"These buildings are going to help me do that," he said. "I have seen the pictures; the new facilities are really going to improve the level of care for of our soldiers.
"The last two years, for example, we have gone to Dodji in the rainy season. At the end of August it rain and rains very hard. As a company commander, I was comfortable, but my people were not. I was not glad about that. These facilities are going to help training commanders feel that their people are in good conditions, too."
As the Dodji camp upgrades near fruition, Gultepe feels his company has made a meaningful contribution, he said.
"This is the good part of our business, when we see the soldiers are happy with new facilities, we are happy," Gultepe said.
Besides meeting the Senegalese intent to increase the camp's size and capacity, the new facilities are built to last long into the future, Maier said.
"What we are providing is modern and high quality," Maier said. "Hopefully, they will use these buildings further into the future than the buildings they are currently using. They now have structures to rely on for the foreseeable future."
Although, to meet the desired life expectancy, routine maintenance and minor repairs to the facilities will be required. Unfortunately, maintenance can prove difficult in African countries where tools and extra materials are limited, especially in remote locations like Dodji, Gultepe said.
"For this project, we will leave all of our hand tools for the camp so they can maintain the facility," he said. "Also, 5 percent of all materials will be left for maintenance purposes."
The Senegalese look forward to taking care of the assets provided by the U.S. to their army, Ndiaye said.
"We are going to learn from our U.S. partners," he said. "…so knowledge can be transferred here, and as we move forward, we have capabilities in terms of building, cooperation and exchange."
Through this project, and others including the recently awarded Infantry Squad Battle Course Range and live fire shoot house, a transfer of technical skills and know-how from U.S. partners is taking place, Ndiaye said.
"The partnership is very, very effective," he said. "The Army Corps of Engineers has quality standards and a good dialogue between partners and us. It is really good stuff."
As this project wraps up, work is under way on the next Corps of Engineers project in Senegal, the ISBC range and shoot house for special operations forces in Thies. It is an opportunity to deepen the U.S.-Senegalese military relationship through the construction of new facilities and training of Senegalese special forces by U.S. counterparts.
"I hope this partnership will continue to improve," Ndiaye said. "Right now, we have the possibility for the U.S. people to learn about our culture and for us to learn about the U.S."
There is a lot to learn about Senegal and the whole of Africa, Gultepe agrees.
"Africa is very interesting. It appeals to me," he said. "Africa is very rich in local languages -- there are more than 4,000 languages spoken here. When you greet someone in their local language, it is very warm. I can make a connection by speaking tribal languages."
Language-improvement opportunities and interaction on the continent will grow in 2014 as USACE continues to support customers, DOS and Africa Command, in achieving peacekeeping and theater security cooperation objectives, respectively. Counter Terrorism Minor Military Construction and Counter Narcotics-Terrorism programs executed by USACE Europe District are gaining momentum. This fiscal year, USACE has awarded 20 contracts for future African projects.
"We believe there will be lots of work here," Gultepe said. "Africa is starting new. As the democracies improve, [the continent] will boom."