GREENVILLE, Ky. -- The Kentucky State Officer Candidate School (OCS) hosted four Officer Cadets and two English language instructors from Kentucky's Partnership Nation of Djibouti, during a Joint Field Training Exercise (JFTX) April 11-14 at Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center.

The skies were grey and the ground was soggy from early morning storms as students of OCS Class 61-19 prepared their weapons and equipment before embarking upon their 48-hour assignment, 'Operation Athena.' There are eight students assigned to Class 61-19, but for the duration of the 48-hour JFTX, the class would include four additional Soldiers for the Djiboutian Officer Academy at AMIA, located in the mountains of Arta, Djibouti.

Maj. Christopher Hettinger, the Kentucky Bilateral Affairs Officer based in Djibouti City, Djibouti commented, "This event brings together future officers from both countries. They begin their relationship building as cadets and candidates and furthers the bilateral partnership. The interaction adds a layer of complexity that will have a lasting impression and prepares individuals to work with coalition forces. The students of both OCS and AMIA will commission this summer and may potentially meet again as officers in a Department of State-sponsored course or other U.S.-Djibouti bilateral engagements."

The JFTX is a physically and mentally challenging part of OCS which requires candidates to move tactically through various field problems while focusing on the fundamentals of troop leading procedures, operations orders, decision making and above all leadership. Upon the completion of twelve tactical lanes, candidates participated in a twelve-mile foot march signaling to state leaders that they have what it takes to move to their third phase of training at Ft. McClellan, Al.

The JFTX not only challenged the OCS Candidates in the traditional sense but also in basic communication. Both the Djiboutian Cadets and OCS Candidates were forced to find a common way to communicate despite the language barrier. To help bridge the communication gap, Sergeant Abdallah Ali Mahammad, an English Language Instructor from Djibouti, followed the students every step of the training event. "I am now more confident in English and teaching. The last time I was in the U.S. was 2016 at Lackland Air Force Base."

The JFTX wasn't only a benefit to the students involved, but also to the instructors that were present. Lieutenant Mohamed Omar said, "The theoretical portion of our tactics discussions have allowed us to discuss the differences and similarities between our two armies. I am particularly impressed with our U.S. weapons class taught by Staff Sgt. Cody Ashcraft. He was thoughtful in his presentation and how he taught us; this was our first exposure to American weapons systems."

Students successfully passed the events of "Operation Athena." The cultural experience and relationships built by both Kentucky Guardsmen and Djiboutian Soldiers continue to strengthen the State Partnership Program. The JFTX also serves as another successful building block in building and maintaining the SPP.