Lessons learned from Exercise Atlas Drop '11 impacts relief aid in Africa
September 8, 2011
Utah's National Guard 197th Special Troops Company (A) hosted U.S. Army personnel along with counterparts from the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) Feb. 7-15, 2011 for aerial delivery system familiarization and operations in support of Atlas Drop 2011 exercise objectives.
Atlas Drop, an annual joint aerial-delivery exercise that brings together U.S. Army personnel with counterparts from the UPDF, was initiated in 1996 as a U.S. European Command-sponsored exercise, designed to further cross-training and interoperability between the two militaries in company-level, bilateral airborne operations, as well as platoon-level, live-fire exercises. Responsibility for the exercise transitioned to U.S. Africa Command in 2009.
Exercise Atlas Drop 11 was a successful first attempt to design a logistics themed exercise on the African continent. Both the U.S. and Ugandan militaries benefited by the knowledge and training gained during this exercise, and will be able to continue to build upon these successes in future endeavors.
In fact, Cpt. Dennis Musiitwa, commander of logistics for a Ugandan Contingent in Mogadishu, Somalia said they are putting into practice what he learned while training in Utah with the Utah National Guard and U.S. Army Africa (USARAF) Soldiers in April.
"I am heading the African Union in distributing relief aid [food] to the war torn areas in Mogadishu, Somalia, as a rigger," Musiitwa said. "The knowledge I got from the Pathfinder training helped me make the drop zones for the aircrafts to drop food into designated areas," he reported.
According to USARAF Commander Maj. Gen. David R. Hogg, U.S. Soldiers had the opportunity to learn and to develop friendships and partnerships with the Soldiers they worked with from the UPDF during the exercise. "For us, that is absolutely invaluable… it was a successful exercise with a lot of hard work."
Gen. Ivan Koreta, deputy chief of Ugandan People's Defense Forces praised the success of the exercise.
"The objectives of the exercise [were] successfully and completely achieved," he said.
As military leaders and planners study what UPDF and U.S. Soldiers learned while serving together in Soroti, one of the themes that emerged was the increased ability of both Ugandan and American Soldiers to adapt to rapidly changing conditions.
Lt. Sulaiman Lubega, an infantry platoon leader with 21st Infantry Battalion, UPDF, said he believes U.S. Soldiers returned to their home units having learned from the UPDF's ability to adapt to any situation.
"One thing (U.S. Soldiers learned from us) was adapting to environments quickly, adapting to the environment to do what is expected of you at that time," he said.
It's no wonder that such a theme would emerge from Atlas Drop '11 -- the UPDF has a long history of adapting to challenging situations.
"We [were] able to accomplish several missions with very, very limited resources," said Capt. Deo Akiiki, public information officer, 3rd Division, UPDF. As an example, Akiiki cited the instance of Ugandan troops coming home from operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1998 not being allowed to fly home.
The UPDF leaders took on the challenge of limited air assets and moved their troops back home on foot. The troops walked more than 620 miles home, said Akiiki. That caliber of resilience and adaptation was evident as well as on the three Drop Zones of Atlas Drop '11.
Versatility--the ability to make oneself useful in any situation--is a trait that serves every Soldier and leader regardless of where they're from or where they work, and it [was] that ability to adapt that made training conducted during AD'11 a success for both U.S. and Ugandan Soldiers.
"The (shared ability to adapt) was seen in the way we [worked] together as if we [had] been together before, and yet we [had] been together for a few days and everything [went so] smoothly," said Akiiki.
Long after the dust settled at the DZs and the U.S. Soldiers returned to their home stations, military leaders and planners continued to assess the exercise's operations and improve upon the lessons learned in Soroti for future operations. Adaptability and versatility aren't easily measured by and quantifiable standard but those two traits were the longest lasting lessons every Soldier of AD '11 took away.