Andrew Dys

He grew up in Rock Hill; what is this Army soldier doing in Africa?

On the other side of the world, in Malawi, a soldier bringing together people from several African nations and the United Nations is from right here in Rock Hill.

Army Staff Sgt. Adrian Valdes, 37, is playing an integral role in an exercise called Southern Accord 2016, which supports U.N. peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The operation is scheduled to conclude this week.

“My job is to make sure everybody is on the same sheet of music,” Valdes said in a telephone interview from Salima, Malawi, in southeastern Africa.

The 16-year military veteran is the only enlisted man working among command officers from the Malawi Defense Force and several other nations, including European partners. The U.S. Army provides the planning component of the accord, which is the fourth African exercise this year and coordinates seven countries and more than 200 military experts and operational heads.

Valdes is the operational plans officer, which means that he spends his days working with soldiers from the other nations to improve the capabilities and readiness of their forces to assist with the peacekeeping effort and in overall preparedness and disaster relief. The goal, the 1998 Northwestern High School graduate said, is to prepare all the forces to work together to be able communicate from command staff down through the troops.

Now a member of the 9th Engineer Battalion – which is part of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division based at Fort Stewart, Ga. – Valdes has been all over the world in the military.

After joining the Marine Corps straight out of high school, Valdes was in Japan when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks hit New York City and Washington, D.C. He was deployed to Afghanistan and later served in Iraq and South America. After leaving the Marines following a decade of service, Valdes wanted to get back into the military life, so he joined the Army.

Now he’s putting to use the skills he has accrued to help the African nations work together. Valdes is stressing how soldiers have to multitask, and the importance of communication up and down the chain of command.

“It’s a coming together with our partners,” Valdes said. “We all need to come together to be effective.”

The exercise brings together the Southern African Development Community with the military of the countries, with American Army soldiers offering technical guidance and experience as the African nations and Americans continue to play peacekeeping and response roles.

Although he has been gone for years, Rock Hill will always be home to Valdes. He has a brother and sister still living here, as well as nieces and nephews. While abroad for so long, he does have one craving that only a trip home can cure.

“I miss Shrimp Boat on Cherry Road,” he said.