CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti – Virginia and Kentucky National Guard Soldiers assigned to Task Force Red Dragon serving in Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa joined French Armed Forces and units from Camp Lemonnier March 13-15 for Exercise WAKRI 22.
WAKRI, the largest annual French-led exercise in Djibouti, provided realistic training across the country for French air, ground and sea components alongside their U.S. allies.
Two U.S. platoons with Task Force Red Dragon, one from the Virginia National Guard’s Alpha Company 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and one from the Kentucky National Guard’s Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry Regiment, 116th IBCT, made up one red force cell and one blue force cell, respectively. The task force also provided U.S. support elements to strengthen logistical capabilities.
More than 2,000 French military personnel participated. Assets included 150 vehicles, four French Dassault Mirage fighter jets, joint terminal attack controllers (JTAC), ground-to-air artillery, mortar teams, and Gazelle and Puma helicopters.
From CJTF-HOA, the United States provided planners, public affairs, medical staff and two infantry platoons. Other units from Camp Lemonnier included ships from Marine Expeditionary Security Squadron and an explosive ordnance disposal team.
The three-day exercise began March 13 when the French Mistral-class LHD ship unloaded vehicles and ground forces onto Arta Beach, Djibouti, to hone amphibious assault skills. WAKRI included more than 100 incidents, constant blue and red force skirmishes, command and control communication and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
The overarching exercise scenario involved hostile forces attempting to establish supply routes on the beach while simultaneously moving forces toward the capital. The blue forces continuously forced the red forces to withdraw, creating opportunities for more simulated attacks to eliminate all “enemies.”
“Blue forces attacked Arta Beach and launched their counterattack from Djibouti to the south,” said French Army Capt. Hugo, an FFDJ company commander and red team lead. “Red forces opposed them from the north to the south in a retrograde maneuver.”
U.S. Soldiers with the blue team conducted joint operations with armored cavalry platoons, engineers and reconnaissance platoons. They received orders from the French command to conduct large-scale battle coordination with the French.
“From this training, we gain rehearsals on our own tactics and standard operating procedures,” said Virginia Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Cameron Belcher, East Africa Response Force, CJTF-HOA. “And we also get to build relationships and familiarity with our allies’ capabilities and assets.”
In addition to improving interoperability, the exercise reinforced capabilities and allowed practical training for one of the French Armed Forces’ key missions in the country: the defense of Djibouti.
“This exercise shows that we are able to set up efficient allied arms companies ready to be deployed,” said Hugo. “This exercise is focused on being able to respond to real-world events.”
The exercise demonstrated how the United States and France train together to defend against threats, strengthening their collective security forces and promoting regional security, stability, and prosperity.
More than 1,000 Virginia and Kentucky Army National Guard Soldiers are mobilized as Task Force Red Dragon under the command of the 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, to provide security for Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. It is the largest VNG single-unit mobilization since World War II.