ARTA, Djibouti - U.S. service members assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa met with their French counterparts as they geared up for the first day of the 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.
“What we’re hoping to do is not just practice our tactics but also practice integrating with a foreign unit such as the French and hopefully learn from them,” said U.S. Army National Guard 1st Lt. Joshua York, 3rd Battalion, 144th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Bayonet platoon leader.
At the end of the course, every service member who successfully completes the required tasks will receive a desert commando badge.
To select participants for the course, the battalion conducted a two-day assessment that consisted of a five-mile ruck march, a five-mile uniform run, pull-ups, rope and wall climbs, and a swim test.
Out of the 60 service members who participated, the top 30 were sent to the next two-day assessment, this time conducted by the French. It included an eight-kilometer run and another swim test through obstacles. The members that successfully completed the French assessment were able to participate in the desert commando course.
“It’s exciting because I get to work with other militaries,” said U.S. Army National Guard Spc. Zachary Frazier, 3-144th IN. “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.”
Because some of their service members 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 hopes they’ll also enjoy the experience.
“We are ready to have some fun and learn” York 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.”