CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti — Approximately 46 U.S. Army Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, assigned to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, along with French Marines completed the French Marine Desert Survival Course Oct. 12 at Arta Plage, Djibouti.
The soldiers and French Marines worked together during the French-led course to learn desert survival skills and operational techniques and train for future real world conditions in environments as austere as Arta Plage.
During the survival course, the U.S. and French participants tackled a number of tasks, including desert operations, combat lifesaving skills, weapons training, survival cooking, water decontamination, and water and mountain obstacle courses.
The main focus, about 70 percent of the course, was combined arms tactical training, according to French Capt. Charles Lenoir, French Desert Survival Course head instructor.
“Then, 15 to 20 percent is obstacle course training — or what we call ‘commando’-type training,” Lenoir said. “The other 10 percent is desert survival course, which goes over how to survive, how to prepare meals, and how to make a fire and [obtain] water in desert conditions.”
When the U.S. soldiers arrived, they were embedded with French infantry and cavalry units. They began their first four days of training in desert operations by setting up a forward operating base, establishing defensive positions, and conducting patrols.
Later, during their time in the mountains, they responded to simulated enemy contact and ambush situations, said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jack Najjar, French Desert Survival Course instructor.
Upon completion of the desert mountain phase, the teams made their way to Arta Plage, where they completed desert survival training, combat lifesaving skills and the water and mountain obstacle courses.
“The combat and obstacle phase gets people to do teamwork, and [it puts] them through an effort,” said Lenoir. “And with the U.S., it’s a good experience to work with our allied forces, so we do it as much as we can.”
In addition to learning the tactical techniques of the French Marines, the U.S. soldiers also learned some of the French language.
“I started with pointing and waving,” Najjar remembered. “And now, with the same obstacle every day, when [the instruction is given] in French, I know exactly what he is talking about.”
“The French have been outstanding people, even with the language barrier,” he added. “At the end of the day, you will see [U.S. and French] sitting together, trading Meals, Ready-to-Eat, and somehow communicating.”
Although the course was intended to train the U.S. soldiers on French tactics, Najjar said, the French instructors also benefited from learning some of the Americans’ tactics.
“It’s great we’re doing [the course], because they are learning our way of doing things, and we are learning their way of doing things,” Najjar said.
“And that improves the whole relationship between the U.S. and French Marines right here in [the Horn of Africa].”