EOD Team Leaders tell the story
Story by Oli Talbott, U.S. Army Africa Counter-IED Fusion Cell
VICENZA, Italy - "Vous, vous et vous; sont morts. Vous êtes gravement blessé." (You, you, and you; are dead. You, are seriously wounded)
On a training lane in Niamey, Niger, the team interpreter translated for U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal team leader Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Centeno, 723rd Ordnance Company (EOD) in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, during a train-the-trainer engagement with the Nigerien forces.
The U.S. Army Africa-led engagement was one of several missions that brought subject matter experts to share their best practices with engineers in Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon to increase their capacity to conduct counter-improvised explosive device (C-IED) missions.
"We are here to make mistakes like these, and learn from them," Centeno said to the Nigerien engineers. "You must be more aware of the surrounding area. Now point out where the secondary charge is that 'killed' all of you."
Once Centenos' words were translated, the students quickly identified the improvised explosive device (IED) hidden 30 feet away, and turned back shaking their heads with rueful grins.
"These guys are smart and learning very quickly," said Centeno. "We are here to both train the unit and identify students who will proceed to follow-on train-the-trainer classes. They will become the Nigerien C-IED instructor cadre. The students must be relentless in striving for knowledge and understanding of IEDs, which is regionally the biggest threat to Multinational Joint Task Force members."
The MNJTF is a combined multinational formation comprised of military and civilian organizations from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria working to counter the violent extremist groups in the Lake Chad Basin area, including Boko Haram and Islamic State - West Africa.
As Centeno and his team ran Nigerien forces through their training lanes in January and early February, USARAF C-IED training occurred simultaneously throughout the Lake Chad Basin region.
In Makurdi, Nigeria, U.S. Army EOD team leader Sgt. Logan Black, 723rd Od. Co., and his team conducted a site exploitation and humanitarian mine action training for Nigerian Army Engineers.
"The response to training was outstanding," said Black. "The students came to class with questions on scenarios they encountered with ordnance and IEDs in the Northeast [of Nigeria]."
"They told us they were very appreciative of the training and felt it would enhance their capabilities to establish a corps of EOD cadre," said Black.
In Douala, Cameroon, a team led by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Lucas Applewhite, 723rd Od. Co. taught IED awareness, defeat the device, and site exploitation training to members of the Brigade d'Infanterie Mobilisees and Presidential Guard.
"The focus is on EOD reconnaissance and how to deal with explosive devices with commonly used material," said Cameroonian Engineer Capt. Nseke Dibombe Laurent, base training officer in charge.
"This training is welcome in our present situation where we face roadside IEDs and suicide bombers," said Nseke. "I am very grateful for the counter-IED course that they provide to our troops."
"Our students particularly appreciated our focus on 'easy to find' locally procured tools, because in the north [of Cameroon], they don't often have a lot of options," said Applewhite. "EOD and C-IED training in the past often focused or featured gear that they simply could not get, and as such, the base commander said he's very pleased with our focus on simpler tools and equipment they can find on the local market."
"The training area has a variety of terrain that allows students to work in very different environments, forcing them to think and adapt to the situation at hand," said Applewhite. "The base commander is supportive, personally attending every graduation and checking in on the classes throughout the week."
The base commander, an EOD technician himself, was the first to report an IED incident up the Cameroonian chain of command, said Applewhite.
"He and his staff made it explicitly clear that students are to take training seriously. Those who do not, and those who do not meet training standards and continue to display un-safe practices, are not to receive course completion certificates," said Applewhite.
Of the students in the class led by Applewhite, all passed and received their certificates; two, after additional remediation training and retest due to safety violations.
IEDs continue to plague MNJTF forces throughout the Lake Chad Basin area.
Nigerien engineer Lt. Mahaman Yahaya, OIC for the site exploitation and train-the-trainer event in Niamey, Niger, emphasized the importance of the focus on IEDs.
"To sum up; IEDs are one of the main threat to our units on the field," said Yahaya. "This training will help the various units of [MNJTF] engineers as they fight in Diffa, Niger, against Boko Haram, in Agadez, Niger, and in Mali against the jihadists to respond more efficiently against IEDs."
"Through the last part of the training the students had many scenarios through which they correct their mistakes and respond with the appropriate materials and tools," said Yahaya.
U.S. Army EOD team leader Staff Sgt. Michael Parker, 723rd Od. Co., emphasized not just the tactical level training, but the importance of teaching future instructors.
"At the beginning, there was an evident lack of instructing experience for most of the class," said Parker. "However, through continuous exercises and practical applications they're becoming proficient in their instructing capabilities."
"They are evolving to be self-sustaining in the train-the-trainer process by conducting peer after action reviews and using the fundamentals of instructing techniques as assessment standards. The GENIE Militaire soldiers will soon have the capability to provide C-IED training to all deploying soldiers from Niger," said Parker.
"Training with the GENIE Militaire has been a unique and gratifying experience for me and my team," said Parker. "This unit has been tasked with C-IED operations in the fight against Boko Haram, as well as providing training to all soldiers before combat rotations. There is a genuine interest in all training we provide, and the amount of information these soldiers retain is impressive."
In the first round of training with combat engineers in N'Djamena, Chad, which concluded in December and scheduled to continue this summer, students were given instruction on basic awareness of improvised explosive devices, safety, awareness of home-made explosives, ground signs, handheld detectors, dismounted and mounted C-IED operations, personnel searches and vehicle searches.
The training was augmented with personal experiences from the field shared by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Garrett McGuire and Spc. Patrick McCutcheon, 723rd Od. Co.
Following each module the Chadian students prepared and conducted a "teach-back" to the instructors to demonstrate their proficiency in teaching the modules. Students demonstrated their ability to teach the information that they had learned and ensured that the information was instructed in an understandable fashion.
"This system allows for the exponential expansion of C-IED knowledge within the Chadian Forces," said McGuire. "By teaching this course, we have begun to provide Chadian EOD engineers the ability to strengthen their forces by giving them the tools and knowledge to teach awareness to other troops on the ground."
U.S. Army Africa Deputy Commanding General and Army Reserve Engagement Cell Chief, Brig. Gen. Kenneth Moore, visited training in Cameroon and saw firsthand the level of engagement between U.S. and Cameroonian engineers.
"How has your training been? said Moore. "Have these U.S. Army soldiers been sharing with you the right knowledge and skills?"
The gathered Cameroonian engineers representing the BIM and the Presidential Guard responded in a combination of French and English that they were learning what they needed and the training left them feeling better prepared.
Moore was in Douala, Cameroon, attending the final planning event for Unified Focus 2017, scheduled for April. UF17 is a tabletop exercise that brings the military partners of the MNJTF together to practice joint planning and coordination through a series of vignettes that include the threat and challenge of dealing with IEDs in the Lake Chad Basin.
"I want you to know that what these soldiers are doing here is important in the big picture fight against extremism in the region. The skills you learn here will help others to make us all safer," said Moore.
Each of the four Lake Chad Basin countries provides troops that support the MNJTF in the fight against regional extremism. Throughout 2016, IEDs delivered by various means were the largest threat for both MNJTF forces and civilians.
The USARAF C-IED program plans, coordinates, and oversees the execution of C-IED training with multiple partner nations across the African continent with the intent of increasing C-IED capacity and capability on the African continent.