Djibouti, Africa --
On the morning of May 23rd, Marines from 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/9, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit left for the austere eastern-African climes of Djibouti to participate in a training exercise with the French Army. Since deploying to the Central Command area of operations in late February, the 24th MEU has conducted multiple exercises and key leader engagements (meetings and briefings with senior leadership) with the French Army and French Foreign Legion in Djibouti to build a strong partnership with an allied country and to continuously learn from each other.
LCpl Christopher Fernandez, a rifleman who participated in the training, provides a first-hand account of this latest training exercise and gives details about 1st Platoon’s interaction with their French counterparts:
Upon arrival in Camp Lemonier 1st Platoon hit the ground running - making their last minute preparation before heading out for a 4 day training exercise with the 5th French Army in the Djiboutian desert. The first night was spent at the French base where we were given an operation order on a map taped to a window by our platoon commander, 1stLt. Michael Desa. The order was of the type you would expect to get in a real combat situation; short and detailed while still maintaining the uncertainty of future operations.
We woke up early the next day to have a breakfast of boiling hot milk, cereal, and rolls before meeting our French counterparts. Once we met up with the French, we mounted up on French LCU's (Landing Craft Unit - landing boats with a ramp that drops down in the front) to assault and seize a designated beach so that the rest of the French forces could arrive safely. Once on the beach we started our mounted, movement-to-contact (essentially a calculated, offensive search for the enemy) towards our first objective, O1 - a small group of enemy combatants in a concrete house.
The enemy - our fellow French soldiers - was equipped with FAMAS rifles (the standard French assault rifle) and grenades. We assaulted through and destroyed the enemy on the objective then loaded into armored high back HMMWVs ('high mobility multi-wheeled vehicles' commonly called humvees or hummers) and proceeded to our next objective - O2 - a small enemy group positioned on top of a mountain.
Our Marines started to take the high ground by covering and moving up the mountain while a French platoon - BLUE 2 - provided cover fire. The enemy’s blank fire was heavy and white powder from the fake grenades was making its way down onto the advancing Marines.
Once we cleared the mountain top and gained the high ground, we were updated on the situation and told that there was a vehicle with approximately six personnel in the low ground preparing to flee. We quickly consolidated and moved towards the target advancing on the enemy with surprise and speed, detaining all six individuals, which we turned over to our French counterparts. It was time to take our final objective - an enemy training camp.
After a long patrol we took a security halt to receive a final update on the enemy situation and ensure the Marines were physically prepared to seize the final objective. Once all final preparations were made we patrolled to within approximately 500 m east of a large terrain feature that would provide cover from the enemy training camp.
We took the high ground to provide cover fire while the French light armored vehicles and dismounted infantry assaulted the training camp and destroyed the enemy. Upon consolidation, we regrouped with the French forces and made a coordinated movement to the Myriam Range Complex to establish a base camp.
At our base camp, the French Army and U.S Marines were able to communicate and exchange thoughts about our gear, weapons and tactics. We exchanged items like covers, pendants, and food as souvenirs. Later that evening, we prepared our gear, cleaned up, and called it a day. We were all excited about the next day’s events, which included firing a variety of weapons on a live-fire range.
When we woke up the next morning, it was time to execute. The French had everything to make a combined arms exercise complete. The training included firing from French tanks, artillery, fixed wing and rotary air support, anti-tank missiles, a heliborne assault platoon, and a even a C-130 cargo plane dropping an aerial resupply. We worked together moving through different objectives on the range throughout the day.
At the final objective, we became a supporting element and provided cover fire so that the French artillery could mark the targets for the fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft. As they began to mark targets, a C-130 came from the horizon behind us and dropped its resupply out of the back of the aircraft.
Soon after the drop we could hear the sounds of French Mirage fighter jets overhead. They swooped down, engaging multiple targets. As the fighter jets left, the French Army dropped artillery rounds on the target, followed by a final engagement of a shoulder-fired missile. Once all firing was complete we returned to base camp to rest, receive the next operation order, and prepare the range for a final day of training.
At base camp, we debriefed the day’s events, talking about what could have been better, and what should have been changed during execution. We were all tired and most of us racked out early that night since the next day would be just as draining.
We woke up early the next morning, geared up, received a safety and scheme of maneuver brief, and went head-first into the day. Our final day on the range would prove eventful as we conducted combined arms training with a different French company, and included a constant barrage from the French tanks on the final objective. All of our Marines left the range tired, but satisfied with our accomplishments and excited about working with the French soldiers. It was a good experience working with the French and it gave us all a better appreciation of the detail involved with a combined arms range. It was a thrill for us to see these different combat elements in action, and more interesting than that, is that the heavy fire power came from our French partners.
LCpl. Christopher Fernandez is a rifleman with 1st Platoon, and is a 20-year-old native of Miami, Fla. He has been deployed with the 24th MEU since late January.