Civic, Business Leaders Learn About Africa Operations
By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti, April 24, 2007 Eroding extremism, securing borders and coastlines, and helping African nations prevent a terrorist resurgence is the goal of troops stationed in Djibouti, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa told a group of visiting business and civic leaders today.
Jeff Meyer (right), senior vice president of event marketing and sales for Field Entertainment, Inc., gets hands-on training in room clearing exercises with an Army instructor from Special Operations Command Central at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti. Meyer is participating in a seven-day Joint Civilian Orientation Conference sponsored by the Department of Defense. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class L.A. Shively, USN
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“We’re not about dropping bombs here, we’re about preventing conflict,” Navy Rear Adm. James Hart told participants in the Defense Department’s Joint Civilian Orientation Conference. “We’re here with our coalition partners to keep from having to come here and fight some day.”
Hart’s command in Africa is one he said is under the “tyranny of distance.” The 100-acre camp hosts 2,000 joint U.S. forces, but has a geographical challenge of covering nearly 12 million square miles over 53 countries.
Tensions based on religion, tribes or colonial borders affect nearly every country on the continent, Hart said. But by working with their coalition partners, the joint task force works daily to prevent conflict, promote regional stability, protect coalition interests, and prevail against extremist groups.
“The work we do is about eroding extremism and changing regional perspectives,” Hart said. “The people we are most trying to affect are the school-age children. We want to teach young Africans how to take care of African problems.”
Hart said empowering Africans to solve their own problems will set the stage for long-term success in the area.
“We want to continue our effort to sustain military training, civil affairs and humanitarian efforts because this is all about Africans helping Africa,” Hart said.
Hart’s senior enlisted advisor, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. John Harris, said that by taking one hour out of the day to develop friendships with Africans, U.S. servicemembers can make great headway in their efforts.
“This is really a hearts and minds tour,” Harris said. “This is very rewarding for our troops. By helping drill wells, start schools and build relationships with local children they are getting instant gratification for their efforts.”
From U.S. Army soldiers working to drill wells in Kenya to U.S. Navy Seabees helping build schools in neighboring countries, task force troops are operating in every African country except for Eritrea and Somalia to work with other U.S. agencies to provide humanitarian relief, offer civil affairs assistance and provide military-to-military training.
The visitors to the camp had the opportunity to step off the installation to see some military training first hand. U.S. Army soldiers were working to train Djiboutian soldiers on how to conduct traffic control points to check personnel and vehicles for car bombs and weapons.
“With practice comes perfection,” said Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Fausto, as he explained the procedures Djiboutian soldiers were demonstrating for the spectators. He said the soldiers were seasoned veterans who picked up on American techniques very quickly.
Fausto and his team have been training the soldiers primarily how to conduct defensive measures, such as personal security details and responding to enemy contact, but they were also showing the Djiboutians how to perform hand-to-hand combat.
This is very significant training, said Joint Civilian Orientation Conference co-host Army Brig. Gen. Susan Lawrence, director of communications for U.S. Central Command, explaining to the group that soldiers are at their most vulnerable while they are manning vehicle checkpoints. Insurgents can easily detonate bombs, injuring or killing soldiers conducting sweeps. That makes it even more important for the correct implementation of anti-terrorism measures.
Troops from Special Operations Command Central and Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command also are taking a large part in the planning and implementation of efforts in the region.
“This war isn’t defined by geographic boundaries, but by ideologies,” said Army Lt. Col. Louis Leto. He said that special operations soldiers have to take a different approach in dealing with it.
While maintaining current operations, he said special operators are hoping to help build lasting peace on the continent.