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NEWS | Aug. 29, 2022

MING Soldier journeys full circle at African Lion 22

By Capt. Joe Legros Michigan National Guard Public Affairs

With sweltering sandstorms and temperatures soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, southern Tunisia is home to a select few desert-dwelling creatures this time of year. But, for one U.S. Army National Guard Soldier, the journey to Africa represented a return to his homeland.

"One look at my name and a Tunisian colonel knew I was from Africa. He asked me, 'Are you from Nigeria?'" said U.S. Army Spc. Kingsley Njoku, Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry Regiment, (3rd Bn., 126th Inf. Regt.), Michigan Army National Guard.

Njoku, a distribution specialist, returned to Africa to participate in exercise African Lion 22 at the Ben Ghilouf Training Area in Tunisia. Along with Morocco, Ghana and Senegal, the Tunisians host U.S. Africa Command's largest premier, joint, annual exercise from June 6-30. More than 7,500 participants from 28 nations and NATO train together with a focus on enhancing readiness for U.S. and partner nation forces.

Together with approximately 70 soldiers from the 3rd Bn., 126th Inf. Regt., Njoku traveled over 4,900 miles from his new hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Tunisia. It's not the first time he's traveled such a long distance.

"After I received my bachelor's degree in library and information science in Nigeria, I worked for a few years in my native country," Njoku explained. "But I reached my peak there and decided to attain my master’s degree in criminal justice and make a better life for myself."

That's when he first made the trek to Michigan.

“Coming to the U.S. was the best decision I ever made," he added.

Now, Njoku works as a correctional officer with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department in the Grand Rapids area. He says he always wanted to serve his new nation.

"I became a citizen within my first four years in the U.S.," he said. "The Michigan National Guard helped facilitate that process."

The 3rd Bn., 126th Inf. Regt’s two weeks in Tunisia represent an overseas deployment for training (ODT). Exercise African Lion 22 counts toward the unit's annual training requirement, where Soldiers validate the unit's mission-essential tasks.

Working cooperatively with the U.S. Marines, Tunisian Armed Forces, as well as units from the Kansas and Oregon National Guard, the 3rd Bn., 126th Inf. Regt. participated in multiple dry and live-fire simulations at the Ben Ghilouf Training Area, including a joint combined arms live-fire exercise.

"This experience has been invaluable, especially when you add extreme hot weather and working within a joint military environment," said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Timothy Stark, commander of B Co. "Validating our squads through simulated training exercises prepares us for larger operations."

“When we deploy in a combat scenario, we won’t deploy alone. Partner nations will fight side-by-side with us,” added Stark.

Njoku agrees.

"The Tunisians at African Lion have been fun and interesting," said Njoku.

He shared how the language barrier hasn't been an issue since arriving in Tunisia. His experience showed him that the U.S. and Tunisian militaries are committed to working hard together and doing their best, even under austere and harsh weather conditions.

“It’s a different country and a new culture for me, but the feeling of being back in Africa is exhilarating," added Njoku.

African Lion 22 is one of many ODTs available for U.S. service members. Other venues include partner countries such as Poland, Latvia, Germany, Romania and Hungary. The goal of these multinational exercises is to strengthen interoperability among participants and set the theater for strategic access.

For outstanding performance during the exercise, unit leadership awarded Njoku the Army Achievement Medal. He says his next step will be officer candidate school.

“The U.S. and, specifically, the Michigan National Guard has offered me so much; a new life," said Njoku. The least I can do is give back any way I can."