ARTA, Djibouti - A cool breeze swept over sweaty faces and light snores filled the silence of the night, as Soldiers began to drift off to sleep, finding some comfort in the rocky terrain of Arta, Djibouti.
But there was a noise in the distance and a flicker of light.
An on-watch Soldier woke the rest of the company, and the sound of gunshots disrupted the once peaceful silence.
This occurrence happened several times throughout the night as French and U.S. Soldiers immediately responded to simulated threats and attacks during a field training exercise (FTX) March 16-17, 2016.
“This type of exercise promotes teamwork with our allies and challenges our Soldiers because of the language barrier and the different tactics, techniques and procedures (both forces employ),” said U.S. Army First Sgt. Brent Ludlow, 2-124 Seminole Battalion first sergeant. “So this allows our Soldiers to learn from what our allies are doing and our allies to learn from us.”
The exercise, hosted by the French 5th Marine Regiment, tested and trained the Soldiers on force protection, convoy operations and counter improvised explosive device tactics.
Beginning with a convoy to the rally point, the French and American Soldiers bonded in mutual discomfort enduring the hot, humid and bumpy ride together.
“One challenge is (enduring) the climate,” said French Capt. Thibaut Hardy, 5th MR executive officer. “It’s hot and damp, and they’re all in their (full gear)."
The bilateral training deepens the relationship between the old allies and maximizes the benefits of serving at the same location by enabling both nations to learn and experience each other’s TTPs.
“It was very interesting and rich for us,” Hardy said. “Most of our TTPs we use today stem from American procedures coined in Afghanistan or Iraq.”
Each ally learned more than TTPs during the exercise as they struggled through language barriers while carrying out their duties.
To overcome some of the language barriers and establish camaraderie, the Soldiers learned and adopted the French term “ça marche,” which means “it/that works,” as somewhat of a catchphrase for the exercise.
The phrase came in handy as they rotated platoon leaders, braving positions of leadership in the other nation’s forces, all while enduring lack of sleep and random ambushes from simulated opposing forces.
“Tactically speaking this is very difficult, so you have to be very (disciplined),” Hardy said. “But they overcame the difficulty.”
“It was a challenge for me personally to not just jump into what we’re trained to do and try to just step back, observe and learn from the French,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Dare Crusade, 2-124 Seminole Battalion team leader.
The FTX is one of 60 engagements U.S. and French forces have held together since September, with more to follow, providing a unique opportunity to build teamwork amongst the allies.
“It’s imperative that we know how our allies work, so in the event that we need to (fight together) we can operate as a more cohesive unit,” Crusade said.
The struggles proved difficult, but they met all of the objectives and everyone emerged a more combat-ready Soldier – together. And as everyone shuffled off to well-deserved rest, “ça marche” echoed across the parking lot.