French Marines, 5th Marine Regiment, attempt to make a fire during a March Desert Combat Training Course in Djibouti. The event, which included a U.S. sailor and Marine, was documented by an Air Force combat camera team. (Airman 1st Class Nicholas Byers/Air Force)
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When U.S. troops recently took part in a French military desert survival program in Africa, combat camera airmen were there to record it.
It was the first time in a year U.S. troops participated in the “desert hardening training,” said Air Force Maj. Nick Strocchia, head of combat camera with the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.
The U.S. stopped participating in the program after last summer when a soldier suffered heat stroke during the training, said Strocchia, who has four airmen working for him.
“That was a big blow for us out here because that’s a really unique opportunity to work hand-in-hand with another allied nation on that level — on the ground — and that’s one of the few instances where we get to work directly with the French,” Strocchia said.
Since then, the French have changed the program to focus more on teamwork than physical endurance, said Strocchia. The Marine and sailor who participated in the revised program were testing the training to see if U.S. could resume its participation.
Photos of the training, captured by Strocchia’s combat camera airmen, depict the operation’s success, he said.
“To the best of my knowledge, I don’t think we work this closely with the French, so we hope the images convey how close and how integrated our troops were,” Strocchia said.
The program includes two days of testing and evaluation and 10 days of training, which is broken into three phases: A physical portion, desert survival skills and a capstone event, hesaid.
The physical portion of the training involved navigating water and desert obstacles, getting acclimated to the climate and used to being on their feet for up to 18 hours a day.
“The second part was the more tactical training where they learned to survive in the desert,” Strocchia said. “They actually killed a goat out there. They skinned it and made jerky out of it. They learned how to make solar stills, start fires, build shelters.”
The capstone event involved a rope course to build leadership, communication and coordination skills, he said. That was followed by a day raid and a night raid on a mock insurgent camp.
The two service members chosen to take part in the training did not speak French and the French marines did not speak English fluently, yet they found a way to communicate by using hand signals, Strocchia said.
Both sides benefit from being able to see how the other works on the ground, allowing them to work together on operations, he said.
“The U.S. and French forces are pursuing the same goal of trying to eliminate violent extremist organizations,” Strocchia said
“How we both do it is somewhat different. The U.S. efforts are more in line with civil-military operations, nation building, strengthening our partner nations — and then we see the French, out to the west, working in Mali.”