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No Day at the Beach: U.S. Troops Learn Desert Commando Skills

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Timothy Moore Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa

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ARTA, Djibouti, Dec. 5, 2017 — U.S. service members assigned to Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa geared up with their French counterparts recently for the French Desert Commando Course at the Djibouti Range Complex here.

Soldiers assigned to Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa keep watch as their platoon sets up an objective rally point on the first day of a French Desert Commando Course at the Djibouti Range Complex near Arta, Djibouti.
Soldiers assigned to Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa keep watch as their platoon sets up an objective rally point on the first day of a French Desert Commando Course at the Djibouti Range Complex near Arta, Djibouti, Nov. 26, 2017. The 12-day course will expose service members to the fundamentals of desert combat, survival, and troop movements while also bridging language and cultural barriers between the French and American troops. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Timothy Moore
Soldiers assigned to Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa keep watch as their platoon sets up an objective rally point on the first day of a French Desert Commando Course at the Djibouti Range Complex near Arta, Djibouti. French Desert Commando Course
Soldiers assigned to Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa keep watch as their platoon sets up an objective rally point on the first day of a French Desert Commando Course at the Djibouti Range Complex near Arta, Djibouti, Nov. 26, 2017. The 12-day course will expose service members to the fundamentals of desert combat, survival, and troop movements while also bridging language and cultural barriers between the French and American troops. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Timothy Moore

The 12-day course began Nov. 26 and exposes service members to the fundamentals of desert combat, survival and troop movements while also bridging language and cultural barriers between the French and American troops.

“What we’re hoping to do is not just practice our tactics, but also practice integrating with a foreign unit … and hopefully learn from them,” said Army 1st Lt. Joshua York, a platoon leader with the Texas Army National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 144th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Bayonet.

Every service member who successfully completes the required tasks will receive a desert commando badge at the end of the course.

Tough Standards

To select participants for the course, the battalion conducted a two-day assessment that consisted of a 5-mile ruck march, a 5-mile uniform run, pullups, rope and wall climbs and a swim test.

Out of the 60 service members who participated, the top 30 were sent on to a two-day assessment conducted by the French. It included an 8-kilometer (5-mile) run and another swim test through obstacles. Those that successfully completed the French assessment were able to participate in the desert commando course.

Army Sgt. Gabriel Mancera, with the Texas Army National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 144th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Bayonet, moves to a defensive position during the first day of a French Desert Commando Course at the Djibouti Range Complex near Arta, Djibouti.
Army Sgt. Gabriel Mancera, with the Texas Army National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 144th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Bayonet, moves to a defensive position during the first day of a French Desert Commando Course at the Djibouti Range Complex near Arta, Djibouti, Nov. 26, 2017. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Timothy Moore
Army Sgt. Gabriel Mancera, with the Texas Army National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 144th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Bayonet, moves to a defensive position during the first day of a French Desert Commando Course at the Djibouti Range Complex near Arta, Djibouti. French Commando Course
Army Sgt. Gabriel Mancera, with the Texas Army National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 144th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Bayonet, moves to a defensive position during the first day of a French Desert Commando Course at the Djibouti Range Complex near Arta, Djibouti, Nov. 26, 2017. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Timothy Moore

“It’s exciting because I get to work with other militaries,” said Army Spc. Zachary Frazier, with the 3rd Battalion, 144th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Bayonet. “I get to see other parts of Djibouti, and [I get to] see what I’m made of here.”

In addition to testing their mettle and leaving with one of the coveted French Desert Commando badges, many of the U.S. service members hope to leave with more.

“I’ve been a [platoon leader] before, but that was a few years ago and it was never with the French,” York said. “So, [I’m hoping to learn] new tactics and have a good learning experience.”

Invaluable Experience

Because some of the troops never get to work outside of the boundaries of Camp Lemonnier, York believes this training could be invaluable to them, as they not only get to learn from people who work in the environment more regularly, but also because they get to experience more of Djibouti.

“It’s a great opportunity to learn new tactics with our fellow French servicemen and work interchangeably with them, and learn desert survival,” Frazier said. “Things we probably wouldn’t get stateside.”

Though pushing themselves and becoming better is everyone’s primary goal, York said he hopes they’ll also enjoy the experience.

“We are ready to have some fun and learn” he said. “They have some exciting obstacle courses here -- some in the water, some on the side of a mountain -- plus some fun-filled tactics. So right now, we’re highly motivated.”