N’DJAMENA, Chad (Lt Col Aram Donigian) – More than 100 Soldiers from the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) are leading operations during a three-week exercise beginning Feb. 16, in the capital of Chad.
FLINTLOCK, U.S. Africa Command’s annual Special Operations Forces exercise, runs through March 8, involves approximately 1,000 personnel from 28 countries, and includes outstations in Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Tunisia.
Planned and executed by Special Operations Command Forward – West Africa, which 10th SFG(A) assumed command of in June 2014, FLINTLOCK, conducted annually since 2005, is a joint, combined multinational exercise designed to improve information sharing at the operational and tactical levels across the Saharan region while fostering increased collaboration and coordination. The focus on military interoperability and capacity-building among African, western partner nations, and U.S. counterterrorism forces seeks African solutions to regional problems.
According to the FLINTLOCK ground commander, a Special Forces major from 10th SFG(A) whose company is primarily responsible for the backside planning and execution of the exercise, the relationships that are built and processes established for solving problems in the future are the key measures of success with an event of this magnitude and scope.
“Given the austere nature of the environment, the lack of any previously established living or operating space, serious logistical constraints, and the participation of multiple nations, this exercise poses an immensely difficult problem,” stated the ground commander. “Success is working with our partners to ensure broad participation in leading groups focused on solving the real world problems we’re facing every day here. That is what will forge us into a real team.”
One of the initial challenges was simply establishing life support for the participants. Logistical professionals from 10th SFG(A), who arrived three weeks prior to the exercise starting, provided much of the leadership and labor in taking areas little more than sand dunes and building roads, fences, tents, lights, air conditioning, and everything else required to support operations in 110 degree temperatures.
“Logistics in Chad is its own unique entity given the lack of a port, no direct flights, and customs constraints,” stated Maj. Josh Johnson, the 10th SFG(A) support operations officer. “It has been a learning experience not only for us but for all of our partner nations.”
Johnson’s troops provide a wide spectrum of support ranging from rigger support to resupply bundle drops and airborne operations, forklift and driver expertise, water purification, fuel handling, contracting and acquisition management, maintenance, billeting, and personnel accountability.
According to Johnson, to date, his Soldiers have received and distributed 120,000 ready to eat meals, including both regular and halal types; 430,000 cases of water, 23,000 liters of fuel, and 250,000 small caliber training rounds of ammunition.
“Most of my folks are working well outside the description of their military occupational specialty to ensure mission success. Many work 12 or more hours tirelessly, come off duty and then pull security,” commented Johnson. “They have been rock stars.”
Much of 10th SFG(A)’s tactical contributions during FLINTLOCK are occurring at outstations where Operational Detachment – Alphas are working in concert with African and western partner nations to identify skill gaps, conduct training, and share small-unit best practices, all while working together to resolve issues such as scarce resources, vehicle breakdowns, range establishment, and the obvious language and cultural barriers.
“The learning at the outstations is definitely symbiotic,” stated the ground commander. “We bring high-end technology and the professionalism that comes with an NCO-driven cadre. We hope to model, along with our partners, the example of an ‘honorable Soldier.’ The African partners bring knowledge about how to train, move, and survive in a desert of eight-inch soft sand, temperatures well over 100 degrees, unique animals and insects, and a lack of water and shelter.”
In addition to the training, medical readiness missions are also occurring at the outstations. These missions have two key parts: first, medical, dental, and veterinary experts meet with local providers to understand, assess, and address through training critical gaps in care; second, working together the Chadian and American providers offer a limited, one-day direct care service to the local population.
“We’re prepared to do some tooth extractions, minor fillings, and spot cleaning,” said Capt. Ross Cook, the 10th SFG(A) dentist. “However, these missions are really more about what you leave behind with the local provider, being able to understand what their primary care needs are and being able to recommend solutions based on what they regularly have on-hand.”
“Animals represent a core source of income and subsistence, so this is a tremendous opportunity to talk to the owner, assess the herd, and provide small suggestions that could help improve overall health,” stated Capt. Andrew Ciccolini, the 10th SFG(A) veterinary surgeon, who will also provide limited animal health care in the form of antibiotics, vaccinations, and wound treatment.
The overarching desired effect for all of these efforts remains fostering regional cooperation among North and West Africa security forces, western partner nations, and U.S. Special Operations Forces to reduce sanctuary and support for violent extremist organizations.
“The willingness to sacrifice for liberty and freedom is a common theme from all of our partners,” stated the Ground Commander. “Chad and the other participating nations have done a great job ensuring both this exercise and our continued fight against terrorist organizations is a collaborative effort.”