By Maj. Khalid Cannon, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa Public Affairs OfficeMarch 10, 2011
ALI OUNE, Djibouti -- Under an overcast sky, nearly 200 members of the Djiboutian Army's elite 1st Rapid Action Regiment honed their infantry skills, mentored by members of the U.S. Army National Guard's 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 137th Infantry Regiment.
The training included instruction on squad movements, convoy operations, contact drills, camp security and marksmanship, and was part of a one-month course which began Jan. 16 and culminated with a graduation Feb. 10. The instruction included mortar crew training and a combat engineering course, according to U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nelson Perkins, mission commander and member of Charlie Company.
"Our mission here is to mentor the Djiboutian military as they prepare for upcoming missions. We're trying to help them so they are capable of preventing conflict, establishing regional stability, and protecting coalition interests here," said Staff Sgt. Travis Elder, an infantry squad leader with the 137th, who is a sheriff's deputy in his hometown located near Topeka, Kan.
"My team and I are out here mentoring the soldiers and helping them along, basically giving them more tools for their toolbox. We're showing them things that have helped us get through certain operations, and we want to help them so they can get through their future missions without any problem," he said.
One of the biggest challenges the instructors faced was the language barrier due to few Djiboutian soldiers speaking English, according to Sgt. Jonathan Moyer, a team member with Echo Company. Instructors relied heavily on 2nd Lt. Omar Ali, Djibouti Army 2nd Company commander, who is fluent in four languages, and Mohamed Said, a Somali-born U.S. Army interpreter.
Throughout the morning, the small groups practiced team movements, and communicated contact and direction of fire. Loud whistle bursts signified enemy contact, and the Djiboutian soldiers moved succinctly, went into the prone position and assumed their staggered firing positions.
The regiment, which was established in 1991 and is comprised of a number of 20-year combat veterans, is the first unit in the Djiboutian Army called to deploy during a contingency, according to Ali. The regiment also provides border security on the Somaliland border located approximately seven miles from the camp.
"The goal for my soldiers is to prepare them for their mission and especially for a deployment under the United Nations, like they did in Haiti and Central Africa," Ali said, who has been in the army since 2001. He attended an officer's course with Germany's mountain troops from 2004-2008 and will soon attend the Infantry Career Captain's Course at Fort Benning, Ga.
According to Ali, the training is part of a continuation of training that began in September 2010 that included effective methods of instruction, commander operation skills course, a command post exercise, and company grade and noncommissioned officer courses.
Just one month ago, the newly-formed training camp consisted of just six concrete pads. Today the camp consists of about 12 tents, a mosque and a large covered classroom area.
"Camp Ali Oune is actually the first of its kind. The Djiboutians don't have any bases here on the Somali border, and this camp is supposed to be here for quite a while. They will be utilizing the camp as a training area and for continuing operations to keep this region safe," he said.
About two miles away in the shadow of a steep hill, other members of the Rapid Action Regiment sharpened their marksmanship skills using the Russian PKM 7.62-mm machine gun, which is the equivalent of the M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon. Automatic gunfire and the ricochet of rounds echoed from the large rock-covered hill as each two-man team practiced firing in staccato bursts of three and five rounds.
"Very well done," one of the instructors exclaimed after seeing a bullseye on the target of one team.
Ali said the training and mentoring provided by the 137th is beneficial because the cadre of instructors bring real-world operational experience.
"We already had a good relationship with the U.S. Army, and I have to say it's a good thing and we have a good image of the U.S. Army," Ali said.