CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti – South Dakota National Guard Soldiers assigned to the 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (MEB) are deployed to Camp Lemonnier as the core staff for Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA).
"The 196th MEB is the nucleus of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa," said Maj. Gen. Lapthe Flora, commanding general, CJTF - HOA. "Their mission is to support U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and forces here in East Africa."
AFRICOM's mission is to counter transnational threats and malign actors, strengthen security forces, and respond to crises to advance U.S. interests and promote regional security, stability and prosperity.
"The MEB comprises 80 percent of the headquarters, but the other 20 percent are individuals from around the country that bring the missing talent the headquarters needs to succeed," said Col. David Dailey, commander, 196th MEB. "It is amazing what this diverse group of people can accomplish in this small area of Africa."
This is the first time in the history of CJTF-HOA that the staff has been made up of primarily one unit.
"The 196th MEB's mobilization marks a pivotal moment for strategic, operational and tactical operations under AFRICOM," said Col. William Robertson, director of logistics, CJTF-HOA. "The 196th MEB's arrival marked a paradigm shift from individual augmentation to a unit-centric sourcing solution for CJTF-HOA's enduring Combined Joint Task Force."
The 196th MEB brings many talents to CJTF-HOA.
"We have service members who come with many diverse work backgrounds that enable them to contribute experience from those jobs to some of the duties they do here," said Command Sgt. Maj. Alan Meyer, senior enlisted leader, 196th MEB. "Also, those civilian jobs they have back home sometimes correlate specifically to duties they are assigned here. That gives the service member the flexibility to work outside of their assigned military job specialty at a very high level."
"Every day presents a new challenge as we work our way through what it means for a unit-based headquarters solution to assume such a large portion of the headquarters structure," added Dailey. "What worked in the past is not necessarily the best approach today, but we find solutions and work together to continue the mission."
The 196th MEB arrived in East Africa in September.
"The unit's personnel are integrated across every element of the staff – from the command group, every joint directorate, special staff, etc., to include interning with national intelligence agencies," said Col. Deitra Trotter, director of intelligence, CJTF-HOA. "They are conducting, facilitating and enabling HOA's mission every single day."
The MEB's mission in East Africa is unique and complex, spread across the entire region.
"As the principal sourcing for the entire HOA staff, the 196th MEB owns the CJTF-HOA mission to respond to crises, ensure strategic access and influence in Djibouti, support operations in Somalia, and serve as the senior command of the Djibouti Base Cluster," said Robertson. "How well this mission is executed determines the U.S. and its partners' overall objective as the partner of choice for Djibouti."
Members of the 196th MEB have been at the center of everything strategic in East Africa. From the moment they arrived, the MEB began planning and executing exercises for base defense. Three indirect fire drills were conducted during the deployment.
In addition to exercises to enhance base defense, the MEB led a bunker hardening mission from January through April. The MEB and other units at Camp Lemonnier filled thousands of sandbags and reinforced numerous bunkers.
One of the major responsibilities of CJTF-HOA is to maintain an East African Response Force (EARF). The MEB planned exercises, ensuring the EARF was ready to deploy to assist anywhere in Africa.
When President Donald Trump ordered the repositioning of all troops from Somalia in late 2020, a large portion of the mission fell upon CJTF-HOA in support of Special Operations Command Africa.
"The team is working on some amazing projects and doing things at a four-star general combatant commander level," said Dailey. "An example of what they have done is the repositioning from Somalia. The team was a huge part of making that happen, from planning the security, the logistical, the engineering, processing of personnel, publishing and tracking media, managing the COVID environment, opening of a support location in Kenya, to coordinating with AFRICOM and SOCAF."
The MEB's mission took its members all over East Africa. The crisis planning team conducted site surveys in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.
The training was conducted as far west as Timbuktu, Mali, with troops and cargo transported by air over 4,800 miles round trip. While in Timbuktu, members of the MEB trained with French counterparts and conducted operational assessments.
Partnerships in East Africa are a priority, and the MEB continually fostered good relationships between the U.S. and its allies in the region. There have been exercises with the French, Italians and Japanese, including casualty evacuation, artillery demonstrations and emergency response planning.
The 196th MEB also trained with Djiboutian partners. The signal section (J6) held a several-month training that culminated in the first combined three-day exercise with the Djiboutian military. They worked with a Djiboutian signal company setting up signal equipment.
In February, the information operations cell hosted the first cyber-defense exchange between CJTF – HOA, the Djiboutian military and the French. This exchange allowed the partners to learn best cybersecurity practices from each other.
The MEB also worked closely with the State Department. The public affairs office and the information operations section attended weekly meetings with ambassadors, ensuring fluid communication between CJTF-HOA and the embassy.
No matter what the MEB did in Africa, there was always one constant: the presence of COVID-19. The 196th continued the mission despite the downgraded environment.
The MEB surgeon cell continued to support the mission while battling COVID-19. In early February, when the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived, the surgeon cell immediately worked on a plan and distributed vaccines to everyone who elected to be vaccinated.
"The 196th has accomplished so many missions here that should make everyone at home proud of their service member," said Meyer. "Not only does their day-to-day work impact people on this continent, but it builds a foundation of trust and improvement for the follow-on units to continue strengthening.
"Everything that has been asked of them they have accomplished at an extremely high level. It is amazing to see your Soldier work tirelessly to accomplish any mission put before them. They work long days as a team to benefit the African people and other service members and they do it without complaint and with little recognition. Your Soldier is selfless and dedicated to others and they represent South Dakota and their families extremely well."
South Dakota Soldiers shared a variety of South Dakota culture with the non-South Dakota members of CJTF-HOA.
"I knew absolutely nothing about South Dakota before encountering the 196th MEB. I'm still puzzling over tomato beer, jackalopes, scotcheroos and so much more, that I'll have to visit and see for myself (in the summer, though!)," joked Trotter. "The 196th MEB has brought boundless energy, enthusiasm, team spirit, willingness to learn, grow, and improve daily and made this headquarters and our mission exponentially better."