Fort Jackson Soldiers provide training support to Congolese army
August 7, 2014
FORT JACKSON, S.C. (Aug. 7, 2014) -- Five Soldiers with the 165th Infantry Brigade, recently helped shape the future of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Three drill sergeants, a first sergeant and a company commander made an impact on more than 90 Congolese soldiers' careers, and the entire Congolese military for years to come.
The U.S. Soldiers participated in a military-to-military training engagement program in the Kinshasa district, which focused on military law, military medicine and basic military tactical intelligence.
"The intent for the four-day mission was for us to go there and meet with the Congo military, and conduct Basic Combat Training procedures and teach them how we integrate new recruits into the military system," said Capt. Reginald Moise, commander, Company B, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment.
The U.S. embassy in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, requested Basic Combat Training support for the Congolese military, and the 165th answered the call for duty.
"The area we went to was a town called Muando, a sliver of land that borders the Atlantic Ocean and also borders the country of Angola. They have a base there called Baki, a base that was built in the 1950s and 60s by the Belgian military," said 1st Sgt. Donald Kenney, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 165th Infantry Brigade.
In 1960, when the Democratic Republic of the Congo gained its independence from Belgium, the base was abandoned.
"Ever since the Congo gained its independence, with the help of the United States, France and other countries, (officials) are trying to get that base up and running again," Kenney said. "Their country and their army as a whole have not had a running military in over 20 years, so they are starting these schools from scratch. With some of the buildings, they are in the process of restoring, doing painting and electrical work."
Kenney said he has trained other countries' militaries before in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said he didn't know what to expect in this situation.
"What I found in the Congolese military was that (the soldiers) were significantly more motivated than what I had experienced with the Iraqis and Afghans," Kenney said. "They are just hindered by resources."
Kenney and Moise trained the officers on how to manage their training cycles, whereas the three drill sergeants, Staff Sgt. Roland Harding, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Debates and Staff Sgt. Natalie Brisco, trained the non-commissioned officers in basic combat tactics.
"From the time our drill sergeants got there to the time we left, their NCOs were hanging on our drill sergeants' every word," Kenney said.
Harding, assigned to Company A, 1-61st, said he could bond with the Congolese soldiers by doing what drill sergeants do best -- teaching Basic Combat Training tactics.
"Once we got past the class room stuff and got outside, we were able to build a relationship with them by teaching them tactical movements," Harding said. "We had them show us their tactics and then we showed them a few things that we do. We showed them squad movements, entering (and) clearing buildings and rooms."
Kenney explained that the Congolese Soldiers have systems and the personnel in place to conduct certain types of training. They just need the know-how to get the job done.
"They were very interested in how the U.S. Army does training calendars, like long-term and short-term calendars," Kenney said. "We brought examples of our training calendars and we explained the eight-step training model -- basically, the process the Army uses to train planning. They have something similar to our operations orders, and so that was helpful in helping us explain to them how we plan training. The U.S. Army tries to plan a year out in advance. They are not used to that, so we taught them how and the benefit of doing so."
Kenney explained that the base where they were located is the main military school house for the entire country.
Moise said that training days lasted from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"Generally we had to let them go around 3 p.m., after talking to some of the senior leadership. We found out that many of the soldiers can go two or three months without getting paid," Moise said. "Yes, (the soldiers) show up for work, but come about lunch time (the leaders) have to cut them loose because they do not have enough money to pay them so (the soldiers) would need to go back home to take care of their families, livestock and/or agriculture responsibilities."
He said the Congolese military is a lot different from the U.S. military, due to the lack of resources, including pay scales.
"Their lieutenant colonel makes about $80 a month," Kenney said.
Kenney said he remembers a particular moment when, during their training management class, an officer asked how U.S. food allowances work with single and married Soldiers. A Congolese field artillery officer, who was a colonel, reprimanded all the officers and told them "not to worry about benefits, and that the Americans flew thousands of miles to come and help them improve their training."
"After that, the focus of the class definitely improved," Kenney said.
The drill sergeants found the lack of resources in training aids made them resort to natural resources to help the Congolese soldiers visualize the training.
"We tried to help them understand (that) a lot of the training you can do without resources, so we taught formations. Many of them would grab a stick and use that as their weapon while in formation," Moise said.
"We found ourselves outside using rocks for training aids because they did not have the resources to make sand tables. We also used rocks to show them how we were going to conduct movements," Harding said. "We had to come up with ways to teach them so they could come up with ways to teach their Soldiers."
Kenney and Moise agreed that the mission was a success. They said they believed the biggest impact came from the Fort Jackson drill sergeants and that with continual support, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is bound to make some changes for the better for their entire military and country.
"I definitely think that the people our drill sergeants interacted with are going to be the beginning of their military," Kenney said. "Our drill sergeants planted a seed with their key instructors and I see it being passed throughout their entire military."
"The Congolese soldiers were very receptive to the drill sergeants, and, at the end of it, we all said that we wish we had more time on the ground, more resources, so that we were be able to help those soldiers more," Moise said.
"Overall, I think it was a very positive experience. I think we should continue to partner with them. They are very eager," Kenney said. "I think this country is the future of Africa, as far as resources (are concerned). There are a lot of untapped resources. If they can get their government and military running well, I think they have a great future ahead of them."