By Maj. Michael J Weisman (Africa)August 2, 2016
DAKAR, Senegal--Approximately 4,000 miles and an ocean away from the Green Mountains, a sergeant from Vermont provides advice and directions through a spotting scope to a Senegalese soldier behind a rifle at a range in Thies, Senegal.
Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Fryburg, an instructor with the Vermont Army National Guard's Regional Training Institute, is part of a two-man team from his unit participating in Africa Readiness Training 16. ART16 is a U.S. Army Africa exercise in Thies from July 12-26 that brings together U.S. and Senegalese infantry units for partnered training.
"We're helping to refine their overall shooting skills," said Fryburg.
The Vermont sergeants are working with an infantry reconnaissance platoon from 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Inf. Division. Assigned as U.S. Africa Command's Regionally Aligned Force, 2nd Brigade Soldiers are partnered with the Senegalese Army's 1st Paratrooper Battalion for the exercise to conduct a series of live-fire training events.
Fryburg's team was asked to provide their specialized training as a result of a relationship forged in 2009 between Vermont and this West African nation.
As part of the State Partner Program, the relationship between Senegal and Vermont is one of 70 partnerships that pair a state's National Guard with the armed forces of a foreign ally or partner, developing unique and long-term relationships that provide benefits to both sides.
While active military units such as 2nd Brigade might only come to Senegal one time for an exercise like ART16, the VTARNG provides a consistent and long-term partnership to build security cooperation with Senegalese Armed Forces.
"We provide continuity," said U.S. Army Maj. Mathew Rodeck, a VTARNG officer serving as the Bilateral Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy's Office of Security Cooperation in Dakar. "Senegal gets to work with the same people for 7-10 years and the relationships are enduring."
Despite vastly different cultures and environments, Rodeck says there was common ground between the two military forces from the outset.
"The Vermont National Guard and the Senegalese Armed Forces are roughly the same size, so we face many of the same issues," he said.
Rodeck said the relationship focuses on strengthening civil-military capacity, such as emergency response operations centers in the event of a natural or humanitarian disaster. Vermont also sponsors a program to assist Senegal in safely removing landmines in the country still buried from previous conflicts.
In addition to Vermont instructors, the Guard also facilitates active-duty explosive ordnance disposal technicians from across U.S. military services within the umbrella of the program.
The relationship cultivated by Vermont paid dividends to the U.S. military during Operation United Assistance, the U.S. military's support to the U.S. Agency for International Development and humanitarian efforts to contain the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa.
"Senegal was a key link controlling Ebola," said Rodeck. "Based on the relationship we built with Senegal, they offered our military use of their facilities to stage and launch our Ebola response in terms of personnel and equipment for movement to Liberia."
It's a busy relationship, with a wide variety of events scheduled throughout the year.
"We had approximately 30 security cooperation events with Senegal last year," said Rodeck. "They range from one-time training to supporting something like ART16, where we were asked to provide marksmanship experts to augment the training here."
Rodeck emphasized that for the Guardsmen who participate in these exchanges, the State Partner Program allows them to learn how to work with a foreign partner, understand their culture and procedures, and find ways to accomplish a mission.
"The biggest thing I'm learning here is working through a translator and making sure my teaching points are as clear and concise as possible to get over the barrier of translation," said Fryburg.
As an instructor at the Regional Training Institute's Basic Leader Course and Mountain Warfare School, Fryburg believes his experience here will make him a better teacher.
"It's a skill I can use teaching to any student," said Fryburg. "We get foreign students there as well."
For ART16, the Soldiers from Vermont and 3rd Inf. Div. assisted the Senegalese paratroopers during fielding and initial training for their recently purchased long-range rifles, manufactured by the Finnish company Sako.
"We've helped teach them the overall basics of the weapons system, long range shooting and the math and skills that accompany it," said Fryburg. "It's been a great overall interaction to see how like-minded we are as militaries."
The Soldiers from 3rd Infantry are also assisting Fryburg with instructing marksmanship and individual skills.
"They've been a great asset to us because of their knowledge in terms of shooting skills," he said. "With this large a class they've been able to work one-on-one [with Senegalese soldiers] and answer questions."
For the future of this unique relationship, the Senegalese military recently opened a new school for training noncommissioned officers, and asked their partner Vermont to assist.
"We're getting involved in their effort to develop senior noncommissioned officers," said Rodeck. "We've been asked to assist in developing instructors and curriculum."
Fryburg hopes he will participate in future events.
"I only recently was introduced to this program and I look forward to coming back," he said. "They're great to work with and there's a lot we can learn from them."