DJIBOUTI, Africa --
(March 30, 2010) The rock-ribbed mountain terrain of Djibouti, Africa, furiously trembled as Marines and French Foreign Legionnaires barraged the earth with their battle tanks when the two militaries joined forces to conduct a bi-lateral training exercise here last month.
M1A1 Abrams battle tanks assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit traversed the rocky peaks and valleys of Djibouti’s desert landscape alongside the French Foreign Legion’s ERC 90 Sagaie Light Armored Vehicles from the 13th Demi-Brigade firing upon abandoned tank hulls scattered thousands of meters away in an impact area.
The training was a welcomed break to a lengthy at-sea period for the Marines and was the first time the Marine tanks have been off-loaded and used since the deploying with the 24th MEU aboard the USS Ashland in January.
The training with the French allowed the tank platoon to maneuver and fire all their weapon systems, and culminated in a coordinated platoon attack with the Foreign Legion’s platoon.
“The terrain has been outstanding for us, testing our ability to maneuver the tanks under fire in a coordinated attack,” said 1st Lt. David Mitchell, platoon commander of the tank platoon. “It really challenges each tank commander and gunner to take command and control of their position in relation to the rest of the platoons.”
Tank crewmen showered the land with hot steel from their M2 .50 caliber heavy machine guns, M240G medium machine guns, and 120mm smoothbore cannon, the battle tank’s main gun. The bombardment of explosive rounds from the Marine platoon allowed the Legionnaire platoon to safely advance and launch rounds from their 90mm cannons.
“It was a great opportunity to become familiar with our allies’ tactics, vehicles and assets that they have,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon Rogers, platoon sergeant of Tank Platoon, which is part of the 24th MEU’s Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment.
The obstacles imposed by the terrain and overcoming the language barrier had no effect on the Marines and their French brothers-in-arms. The chance to train together achieved a level of team work and understanding that brought out the best in each platoon while on the battlefield.
“The cooperation and coordination was near perfect,” said 1st Lt. Pierre Neron-Barcel, platoon commander of 40th Platoon, 13th Demi-Brigade, French Foreign Legion. “For me and my guys it was great to do this with the Marines. There are several common points in our training, but our differences are what the individual Legionaaire and Marine actually want to learn about."
Once the dust settled from the “attack”, crewmen from both countries gathered together to learn about each other’s armored vehicles and even allowed each other the opportunity to fire live rounds from them.
“When we get to shoot rounds from the other vehicles, we get a taste in the life of the French Foreign Legion tanker and of the American tanker,” said Mitchell, a York, Penn., native. “It gives us a great sense of respect for what that country can do with the technology it has and how it’s utilized to be successful.”
French commanders saddled into the Abrams tanks and fired several 120mm rounds. As a keepsake, the Marines gave their French counterparts expelled shell casings after they fired the Abrams main gun.
Marine tank crewmen took the rare opportunitiy to ride inside and fire the French ERC90 Sagaie armored vehicles.
“It was a once in a life-time opportunity to be working with the French,” said Cpl. Brandon Chacon, a tank crewman. “We had some great main gun and machine gun shooting. The one thing I enjoyed the most was seeing the French out here working right beside us.”
The Marine platoon commander echoed the sentiment of his men.
“I was thrilled with the opportunity to work with the French,” said Mitchell. “Hopefully other MEUs are as lucky as us. It’s a great tradition that I hope the MEU’s continue in the future.”