DJIBOUTI CITY, Djibouti – A small group of Kentucky National Guard leaders from the 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry embarked on a mission to Djibouti Sept. 20-28 to continue building Kentucky's relationship with the nation as part of the National Guard's State Partnership Program (SPP).
The Kentucky infantry Soldiers were introduced to two organizations in the Djiboutian Armed Forces during the visit. The first was the Djiboutian Republican Guard (La Garde Républicaine Djiboutienne), a section of the Djiboutian Army that provides security missions for the highest Djiboutian state authorities and the public, as well as missions of training, cooperation and assistance, both locally and abroad. The second was the Djiboutian National Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie Nationale Djiboutienne), a police-like branch of the Djibouti Armed Forces that is in charge of public safety among the civilian population.
Capt. Michael Moynahan, commander of Delta Company, 1/149th, Command Sgt. Maj. Benzie Timberlake and Sgt. 1st Class David Olszewski introduced members of the Djiboutian Republican Guard to standard approaches to infantry tactics, including basic marksmanship fundamentals, squad movement techniques, detainee searches and traffic control point operations during their first two days in Djibouti. In return, a few of the Republican Guard's weapons instructors and their squads demonstrated their own tactics and techniques.
"We're so technologically advanced that we tend to forget how we would do things analogically," said Maj. Christopher Hettinger, Bilateral Affairs Officer for the State Partnership Program in Djibouti,"We have a tendency to get stuck in how we do things, so it's nice to see how someone else does it."
By the end of the second day, platoons from the Republican Guard were performing new squad movement techniques. The Kentucky infantrymen chose to focus on instructing the leaders within the Djiboutian ranks how to lead the formations, then supervised while Djiboutian sergeants led their own subordinates rather than leading the drills themselves.
"The Djiboutian forces are willing to learn, we just need to send someone to teach them," said Timberlake.
Prior to this mission, Kentucky National Guard senior leadership met with leaders of the Gendarmerie when they visited Djibouti during the nation's 40thIndependence Day celebration last June. During this visit, Brig. Gen. Benjamin Adams III and State Command Sgt. Maj. David Munden met with Djiboutian Armed Forces leadership at the Gendarmerie Training Facility to discuss future partnership training opportunities with the Gendarmerie police force, where the Gendarmerie specified that they were interested in receiving U.S. training on urban combat environments.
Fast forward four months and Kentucky Soldiers were answering that request.
The Kentucky Soldiers began their meeting with the Gendarmerie by reviewing what weapon systems their force prefers to use. Sincemany of their preferred weapon systems are U.S. made, Col. Ibrahim Elmi Kaib from the Gendarmerie said they were honored to have members of the Kentucky Guard there to help.
"There is no better way to learn about U.S. weapons than from U.S. Soldiers," said Maj. Hoummad Liota Hoummad, Chief of Cabinet for the Gendarmerie.
YouTube videos were used to bridge the gap of translation and answer questions and answers during the exchange. After the Kentuckians and members of the Gendarmerie discussed these needs over rifles and croissants, both sides began passionately discussing marksmanship and urban combat tactics. This excitement prompted tours of the training facilities, including the range, a unique shoot house, and a room-clearing demonstration.
The Kentucky infantrymen said while Kentucky Soldiers may not be able to learn new combat tactics from the Djiboutian forces, the benefits of this partnership are still very much balanced. There is still much to be learned about leadership, cooperation and adaptability through the international experiential opportunities that this partnership provides. They believed members of the Kentucky National Guard would greatly benefit from participating in this type of exchange since so few of our Soldiers today have been exposed to operations in austere environments while dealing with host nation forces.
"The ability for Soldiers to have exposure to different cultures and foreign armies is very valuable," said Moynahan."Guard Soldiers in 2017 do not operate in a vacuum when they conduct overseas operations. All U.S. military forces must learn how to operate with allies that come from different cultures and backgrounds in order to achieve common goals."
By the end of this mission, Hettinger said it was evident that all involved in this partnership are eager to continue planning for future collaborations with each other.
"The dedication and hard work that is displayed by the leadership of both sides demonstrate the potential that this partnership holds for the future engagements between not only the Kentucky Army National Guard and the Djiboutian Armed Forces, but also between our two nations as a whole."