BEN GHILOUF, Tunisia – Southern Tunisia features a vast desert, poisonous scorpions, large camel spiders and multiple species of snakes. Fierce sandstorms and extreme heat are the norms during the summer.
“Coming from Michigan, unit leadership agreed this would make for a unique training environment to test our equipment and challenge our Soldiers,” said U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Darin Alexander, first sergeant of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry Regiment, Michigan National Guard. “A challenge is exactly what our Soldiers received.”
The 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry Regiment signed up for overseas deployment for training exercise African Lion 22 at the Ben Ghilouf Training Area in Tunisia.
African Lion is U.S. Africa Command’s largest and premier annual exercise, involving more than 7,500 service members from 28 nations and NATO June 6 - 30. The training bolsters interoperability and supports U.S. military strategic readiness in Africa and worldwide.
The infantry unit’s capabilities feature M4 rifles, including M320 grenade launcher modules, and belt-fed M249 squad automatic weapons and M240B machine guns. All these weapon systems were on display during training.
“We train through extremely cold temperatures throughout the winter in Michigan,” said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Kurt Blackburn, a platoon sergeant. “It’s great to see our Soldiers and equipment can also withstand the stress of extremely hot weather and blowing sand.”
To mitigate heat-related casualties, water and powdered electrolytes were always available. A medical team, organic to the unit, monitored Soldiers daily during and after training missions.
As a result, the battalion completed range operations where Soldiers zeroed their weapons, executed reflexive fire scenarios and demonstrated weapons proficiency. Additionally, they conducted multiple dry and live-fire exercises incorporating combat lifesaver techniques on simulated casualties.
The unit maintained individual Soldier readiness and welfare while also completing required company-level mission-essential tasks.
African Lion’s culminating event was a joint combined arms live-fire exercise with the Tunisian Armed Forces, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, the 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade, and Kansas and Oregon National Guard units.
“When we deploy, we’ll deploy with partners,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Timothy Stark, commander of B Company, 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry Regiment. “It’s essential to train together, learn from other units and militaries, and grow as a multinational team.”
“We don’t always get to choose our operating environment, so we need to be prepared for anything,” he said while leading his unit through a simulated live-fire rehearsal on a 113-degree day.
Along with the approximately 70 Soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry Regiment, who trained in Tunisia, thousands of other U.S. service members conducted exercises concurrently in Morocco, Ghana and Senegal during African Lion 22.
The exercise strengthens shared defense capabilities to counter transnational threats and violent extremist organizations.
Acclimating to the climate, knowing the terrain and training with partner nations are necessary to accomplish this goal.
“We came to Tunisia to put our Soldiers to the test,” Alexander said. “They passed that test and we are ready when called upon.”