LIBREVILLE, Gabon -- Deep in a Gabonese jungle on the coast of Corisco Bay, one may hear birds, rustling trees and U.S. Army infantrymen running up and down hillsides calling out to one another, "Hurry up!" "Let's go!" "Come on man, you're almost there!"
After training for months in the deserts of Fort Bliss, Texas, and the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., approximately 60 Soldiers of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, transitioned to the humid climate and thick vegetation at French Jungle Warfare School in Gabon.
Soldiers of 3-7th Infantry, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, began the weeklong course, June 6. Faces painted in camouflage, the men set out with rucks on their backs to learn jungle survival skills and tactics, as well as test their physical and mental stamina.
"During the week, the Soldiers are learning to fight in the jungle," said Adgudant Lumchook Loom, an instructor with the French Jungle Warfare School. "I think, for the U.S. Army, it's very good because it's another style of warfare."
The Jungle Warfare School ran its first course in 1983, according to Loom. Since then, the French school's top priority has been to train their African partners, in addition to some European troops. This is the first time any U.S. servicemember has attended the course, which focuses on terrain unfamiliar to today's ordinary Soldier.
"This is something that's a very unique opportunity," said Capt. Zachary Schaeffer, Bravo Company commander. "It's been very beneficial to the Soldiers just to see a very different perspective, something that we're not at all used to, something that may have fallen by the wayside since we've been operating in Iraq and Afghanistan for so many years in the past."
The company specializes in light infantry operations, trained to move by foot, often through terrain with limited vehicle access, such as desert, mountain or jungle.
"As a light infantry unit, you never know where you're going to get deployed to, so it's always beneficial to be well-rounded in a lot of different environments," Schaeffer said. "You never know what you're going to face, so this gives us more tactics and techniques that we can apply to other environments we might operate in."
In order to bridge the gap between French and U.S. jungle operations, instructors from the Jungle Operations Training Center of 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, were sent to assist throughout the course. Staff Sgt. Larry Aviles, an instructor at the aforementioned Lightning Academy, noted only a few differences between each military's strategies for jungle operations.
"The best part is realizing we aren't the only ones that do what we do," Aviles said after participating in the course and observing the instructors. "The French...do almost the same exact things. You can think of them as a carbon copy for us, just they speak French."
Aviles did note one distinct difference between their schools: the obstacle course.
Soldiers navigated the two to four-hour long obstacle course twice, once as individuals and once in squad-sized groups. Most events invovled moving across shaky surfaces over murky waters, requiring strength, concentration and the ability to persevere past pain and fear. Soldiers relied on one another to push through mental doubts.
"You got to motivate everybody, let everybody know you're on the same team," said Spc. Kevin Hubbard, infantryman with Bravo Company, who used his platoon to drive himself forward when struggling. "I messed up a few times but got right back on it. I didn't want to get halfway through the course, fall out and have to restart and have them waiting on me."
"We completed the obstacle course earlier today and it's not like any obstacle course we have in the American army," Schaeffer said. "So, it was good to experience new things and the Soldiers were real motivated about that."
Hubbard said he particularly enjoyed learning new survival skills, such as making a hammock, catching food and using sap to amplify a fire. Small group instruction implemented by the French helped him acquire a few new skills every day.
"They kinda keep it simple," Hubbard said. "They really take their time with us."
"The Jungle Warfare Course here, they teach down to the individual level, making sure everybody knows the tactics, everybody knows the strategy," Aviles said.
In addition to enhancing their overall operational readiness, Soldiers of 3-7th Infantry also improved their ability to communicate across cultural and language barriers.
"I really couldn't understand a lot of the words they're saying ... so it kinda took a little bit longer to learn everything," Hubbard said about his experience at the beginning of the course.
Like other newer Soldiers in the unit, this was Hubbard's first time in a different country. He found by the end of the course it was not so difficult communicate with someone using a different language.
"Some of the words they say over and over kind of get stuck in your head," he explained. "I can't pronounce it, but I know what they're talking about."
After a strenuous week in the jungle, Soldiers were ready for hot food, showers and air conditioning. Even though Hubbard said he was not much of an "outdoorsy" person before, he is now upon completing the course.
"It was pretty tough, but it was fun," Hubbard said. "I enjoyed it a lot. We definitely earned our rest afterwards."
Following Jungle Warfare School, the Soldiers joined others of 2nd IBCT, the regionally allocated force for U.S. Army Africa, to train side by side with their Gabonese and other African and European partner nations during Central Accord 2016. U.S. Army Africa's exercise Central Accord 2016 is an annual, combined, joint military exercise that brings together partner nations to practice and demonstrate proficiency in conducting peacekeeping operations.