In the jungle of Gabon, soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, were trained in jungle warfare tactics and led training on basic soldier skills for participants of Central Accord 16.
The U.S. Army Africa exercise positioned more than 500 soldiers just outside the village of Ayeme, where they lived, ate and trained together on everything from weapons, tactics and international law.
French jungle warfare school
In early June, soldiers from Bravo Company, 3-7 Infantry Regiment, 2nd IBCT attended the French Warfare School in Gabon, where they trained on obstacle courses and jungle tactics.
Sgt. Jesse Harlan, a platoon team leader, had been to the 25th Infantry Division jungle warfare school in Hawaii and trained with the Malaysian military on jungle warfare before attending the one in Gabon.
Harlan learned at Central Accord, “just picking up new jungle tactics and picking up French. Learning some French now and helping out with training a different nation. It’s very new for me.”
He said the French jungle warfare school was fun, and the team-building obstacle course was new to him in a jungle warfare school. The stress of the course forced the soldiers to rely on one another to get through the challenges.
“Everybody passed. Everyone did really well. I was really proud of my team and my squad,” he said. “I mean, we all really worked hard to overcome the obstacles.”
The 3-7 Infantry Regiment soldiers attended an awards ceremony June 24 on the French military base Camp de Gaulle in Libreville, Gabon, where they were pinned with the French jungle warfare badge for completing the course.
After a few days of academics during Central Accord 16, the African partner soldiers “got to incorporate all of the training that they’ve learned, put it together to use in a somewhat real-world situation” in a field training exercise, said Staff Sgt. Robert Gash, assault squad leader with Bravo Company, 3-7 Infantry Regiment.
Gash said the Gabonese soldiers he worked with, who had never worked with one another before, surprised him by how quickly they learned.
“They’ve gone leaps and bounds since they arrived,” he said.
His soldiers have also gotten a lot out of working with the Gabonese.
“The Gabonese, they’re well-versed in operating in an austere environment,” Gash said. “We’ve come here to the jungle to operate, which a lot of our soldiers aren’t really used to, and so just watching them and learning from them on their tactics and techniques.
“And they operate with very little equipment, but they’re still able to accomplish their mission. And that’s one of the things that our soldiers have gained is just being able to work out here with very little and still accomplish their mission,” he added.
Sgt. Michael Brosseau, a squad leader in Bravo Company, 3-7 Infantry Regiment, was assigned with his squad to a Cameroon platoon and gave guidance on how the U.S. Army and United Nations personnel do certain tasks.
Brosseau said that over the course of a few days, the soldiers trained on key leader engagements, entry control points, simulated soldiers surrendering, riots and calling in resupplies from helicopters.
“The Cameroon country is one of the most disciplined countries out here, in my opinion,” he said, praising the nation’s soldiers’ motivation and how quickly they learned doctrine from the U.N.
“I think it’s an amazing experience because not only do they bring knowledge and discipline and motivation from a different level, but we also bring the same thing,” said Brosseau about his and his squad’s experience working with the Cameroonians.
“And we’re allowed to take one doctrine that neither one of us know perfectly and perfect it to the ‘T’ and continue to practice. And it just goes to show how fast two different countries can come together and operate as one,” he added.
“We worked with the Gabonese so far — my team has — and they respond well,” said Harlan about his experience. “They’re very smart people, they love to learn, and they respond to the training a lot. They like what they’re doing, they like what they see.”
Lt. Col. Brian Ducote, the commander of 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 2 IBCT, said the leaders from the participating countries even asked for training that was not originally on the agenda.
“Rule-of-law training, which we did not necessarily have, ethics training, and there was another class on dealing with sexual violence. The accusations or situations” of sexual violence and how to inform their soldiers of how to deal with them, he said.
Ducote said that within 48 hours, they had a lawyer come to teach the new lesson to the soldiers.
Ducote was excited by what he saw in the soldiers who were training at Ayeme.
“It was exceptional. I mean, it’s a very rewarding opportunity to see people who want to learn more about their profession — our profession, our collective profession,” he said. “Working together, sacrificing their time and their intellectual energy to be better than what they were before.
“Even though they’d never worked together, to say I want to learn something, I want to leave here better than when I came here from,” Ducote added. “And so they were like sponges. Everything we said and taught, they asked good questions.”
For the leaders of the participating countries, the training lessons were transcribed into French and handed out in binders, and CDs were made of their work products so that the soldiers can take them home for future use, according to Ducote.
“I would have to say that what we take away from them is probably that less is more,” Harlan said. “I mean, we advanced a lot of technology. They use what they have, and they do very well with it. And I think the Army can do that a lot as well.”
He added that in the jungle, “the basics is what saves your life. So especially in the jungle warfare aspect of it, basics is what gets you through.”
Besides the tactics, weapons training and academics that the soldiers learned at Central Accord 16, the biggest lesson that could not be taught, but only experienced, was the relationship building between the soldiers, Ducote said.
“That’s the one thing that our soldiers will walk away with — how to interact with and grow and nurture a relationship with someone who doesn’t speak your language, different background, different culture, different everything,” he said.
“There’s a mutual respect that I know our soldiers exhibit towards them and that they exhibit towards us, and I think part of that is why they are so attentive to what we have to offer,” he added. “And they want to learn. And it’s just really encouraging — can’t stress it enough.”