The East Africa Response Force (EARF) returned to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, April 20 2014, following a four-month forward-deployment to secure U.S. Embassy-South Sudan.
The EARF, assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), flew into Juba, the capital, Dec. 18, 2013, following an outbreak of violence in South Sudan. The EARF had just transferred authority 96 hours previously, but upon notification, were able to assemble their gear and were ready to go within hours.
The group evacuated 700 U.S. and foreign national noncombatants, and was expected to be there two weeks, but their stay was extended because continued security was needed.
Ambassador Susan Page, U.S. Embassy-South Sudan, praised the unit’s efforts in a diplomatic cable sent to the State Department.
“The EARF's consistent stance toward the U.S. mission's leadership was ‘tell us what you need, and we will do it,’” Page stated. “They provided continuous 24/7 security to the two embassy compounds, allowing the embassy to remain open. By making continued embassy operations possible, the EARF facilitated U.S. government's efforts toward humanitarian relief and ending South Sudan's conflict.”
The EARF, made up of Soldiers from the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, accomplished the mission in two waves. Bravo Company sent the initial team to perform the evacuation of personnel and to establish parameter security.
A second team, led by U.S. Army Capt. Mark Vidotto, Headquarters Headquarters Company commander, replaced Bravo Company in mid-January, and continued security operations.
“We were there to provide security for U.S. personnel and the infrastructure of the embassy compound and provided added assistance as directed by the U.S. ambassador,” Vidotto said. “I feel like it was a successful mission. We were there for three months and constantly improved defensive posture positions.”
He said his Soldiers were always coming up with ideas to make things better.
They’re the second unit assigned to the EARF mission, part of a new initiative of Regionally Aligned Forces, which provides the commander of U.S. Africa Command an additional capability to respond to crises and contingencies within East Africa.
Although comprised primarily of Soldiers, the EARF functions as a joint response force, the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy all provided personnel during the operation. The joint effort allowed CJTF-HOA to be effective in accomplishing its mission of ensuring peace and stability throughout the region.
Vidotto said the people from CJTF-HOA’s J6, communications directorate, played a huge role in providing access to non-classified internet protocol and secure internet protocol routers. This allowed his team to have reliable back-and-forth communication with CJTF-HOA leadership and J2, intelligence directorate.
Intelligence personnel on Camp Lemonnier were able to relay situations on the ground in South Sudan to Vidotto’s team that was protecting the embassy.
The job well done by members of the EARF was greatly appreciated by the 700 people who were evacuated.
“EARF service members were professional at all times,” Page stated. “The embassy community holds EARF team members in great respect, admiration and affection. We are deeply grateful to them for a job very well done.”
With the situation in Juba stabilized, the EARF was directed to redeploy to Camp Lemonnier and was replaced with a Marine Security Augmentation Detachment.
The capabilities the EARF provide are pivotal in the Horn of Africa region, and key to the CJTF-HOA mission to strengthen East African partner nation militaries by conducting crisis response and personnel recovery supporting U.S. military, diplomatic and civilian personnel throughout East Africa.