By By Lt. Cmdr. Christopher George
Obangame Express (OE21) is an annual naval interoperability exercise hosted by a rotating roster of West African nations in the Gulf of Guinea that was held in Accra, Ghana this year from March 14-27, 2021. This was the first multinational exercise of this magnitude on the African continent since the start of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The United States participates to build the capacity for partnership between U.S. Naval forces and West African navies. Participating nations along the West African coast, along with European partners, practice interdiction of illegal fishing, piracy, contraband smuggling, and human trafficking.
Joint multinational exercise was primarily planned and executed by Navy Reservists in concert with active duty and civilian personnel from U.S. Naval Forces Africa and United States Africa Command.
Two Ghanaian-American Sailors returned to the host country, where they were born, to play critical roles in the exercise.
Information Systems Technician First Class Samuel Ellis was 29 years-old when he left his homeland of Ghana to emigrate to the United States.
One of 8 siblings in a large family, Ellis had a successful career as a real estate appraiser in Ghana before receiving a lottery visa to enter the United States to live and work as a legal permanent resident. Knowing the challenges before him, if he left his career in Ghana to start over again in America, Ellis nevertheless believed the opportunities available to him in America would be worth the sacrifice required.
“Words cannot completely express the feeling of gratefulness and pride I have to be back here in Ghana working for the Navy,” Ellis said. “The United States is the world’s greatest nation with the world’s greatest Navy. Coming back to Ghana to support the Ghanaian military to combat their challenges in the Gulf of Guinea is such a privilege.”
Petty Officer Ellis arrived in the United States in 1997 and worked in retail sales for less than a year before enlisting in the United States Navy. During his four years of active duty, Ellis became a naturalized American citizen and later obtained his master’s degree in information systems management.
After detaching from active duty, Ellis obtained professional certifications in computers and began a career with Best Buy that resulted in him being named a customer service manager in short order. In 2006, he rejoined the Navy as a Reservist in the Information Systems Technician rating. Presently, Ellis works in a civilian capacity for the Defense Contract Management Agency as an auditor for C-130 cargo plane production.
“The people of Ghana love the United States and really respect our military. The reception I experience being back in my home country wearing the American uniform is nothing short of amazing,” Ellis said.
During a community-relations visit with Navy colleagues, Ellis visited his old middle school, Community 8 No. 3 Junior High School in Tema, Ghana.
“I told the children that even though they aren’t surrounded by much at this school here in Tema, if they apply themselves, they can go anywhere.”
Cmdr. Prince Boateng, a Selected Reservist from Massachusetts was the officer-in-charge of the exercise detachment at Osu Castle, home of the regional Multinational Maritime Control Center. Boateng was born in Ghana, where he lived until he was 13 years-old. Growing up in Ghana, he enjoyed exploring the countryside on foot, much to his grandmother's chagrin. His yearning to explore led him towards two long-term positives in his life: ultra-distance running and a commission in the U.S. Navy.
After graduating from high school in Brooklyn, New York, Boateng attended the State University of New York Maritime Academy and earned a professional merchant mariner’s license.
“My initial motivation for joining the Navy was that it provided an opportunity to see the world and expand my horizon,” Boateng said. “The Navy has not disappointed, and I have developed a deep admiration for the Navy and our country.”
Now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and Chief Executive Officer of a small farmer finance and lending corporation helping farmers in Africa, Boateng was deeply gratified to return to Ghana for Exercise Obangame Express 21.
As officer-in-charge of an exercise location, he had a frantic schedule during Obangame Express, coordinating exercise operations and collaborating with naval officers from Ghana and other West African nations. Boateng is grateful for the opportunity to help Ghanaians protect their natural resources.
“The work we do helps protect resources for ordinary people. For example, the protection of fisheries helps the livelihoods for fishing communities. It helps families provide for their kids. This assignment is rewarding because I can help thousands of people.”
The 32 nations who participated in Obangame Express included Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Italy, Liberia, Morocco, Namibia, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, Togo, and the United States. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) also participated.