Now that I have been home for a few days after traveling about 24 hours from Gabon, I’ve had a little time to reflect on what I saw and experienced while embedding with 3rd Infantry Division soldiers during exercises Anakonda 16 and Central Accord 16.
The biggest takeaway from both exercises was the partnership and relationship building I saw between the American soldiers and their international counterparts.
Soldiers from 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team were able to train with several allied European armies in Poland during Anakonda 16, building knowledge and skills by those interactions.
Learning how to be interoperable with other European partner nations was a key element of the exercise, and American soldiers planned and executed exercise objectives with counterparts from other armies.
“One of the big things that we’re talking about here is our joint multinational interoperability,” said Capt. Douglas Snelling, battalion fire direction officer for 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd ID Division Artillery. “That’s important for the soldiers to know that we can pick up at any point in time and with a week’s notice we’ll be — we can work cohesively with other countries, other units, other types of U.S. units, whether it’s National Guard or regular Army.”
In addition to partnership building, I also had several conversations with soldiers in which they said they were excited to brush up on some of the traditional tactics that was once common in the Army and away from the counterinsurgency mission that did not necessarily afford them the ability to utilize their armor equipment or training.
One of the back-to-basics elements on which the soldiers were training during Anakonda was how to properly camouflage themselves and their equipment in the woodland environment. Faces were colored with camo paint, and vehicles and tents were draped in tree limbs and netting.
Central Accord 16
In a conversation I had with Col. James Dooghan, the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team commander, he also emphasized the importance of his soldiers developing relationships during Central Accord.
Soldiers from 2IBCT and the participating countries lived together, ate together and trained together for more than two weeks, and I could see how the training was conducted — and problems overcome — with patience and initiative.
The exchanging of patches between the soldiers was a big deal, especially out in Ayeme, where soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment were leading training for soldiers from several countries, including Cameroon and Chad.
I saw several of these soldiers with 3rd ID patches, a sign of friendship and camaraderie.
“I think everybody is excited to work with each other,” said Pfc. Michael Ksander of Bravo Company, 3-7 Infantry. “There’s a lot of trading of patches and trinkets. … Everybody is excited. It’s a different kind of morale than I’m used to seeing with some of these forces here. They’re definitely eager to learn and when they do, they do it very, very well.”
“Our soldiers are really enjoying an opportunity to work with foreign nations,” said Capt. Zachary Schaeffer, the commander of Bravo Company. “We’ve been learning a lot of skills that we don’t normally practice — for instance, stability and peacekeeping operations. So our soldiers have been having a really good time working on that.”
As for lessons learned from their work training soldiers in Gabon, “Well it’s always a challenge to work with other nations,” Schaeffer said.
“For one, you have different tactics and different techniques, but then also there’s always the language barrier that you’re trying to work through. But our soldiers have been working through that and making some strong relationships with our partnered armies.”
For one soldier, Central Accord was also a chance to show those at home as well as the world that America is an ally.
“What we’re doing out here is very important to show the rest of the world that America can come out and help out with the training,” said Sgt. Jesse Harlan, a platoon team leader with 3-7 Infantry. “Get people prepared for whatever missions they’re going on, whether it be peacekeeping, wartime. That we’re here to help out, help to train, give guidance.”