352nd Special Operations Group completes Trans-Saharan training
DAKAR, Senegal — A cloud of dust kicked up by propeller wash from an MC-130 Cargo aircraft taxing out for a mission, engulfed the Senegalese Fokker-27 parked in front of a hangar at Dakar International airport here June 13. The sortie was preparing to exfiltrate, or retrieve, U.S. Army Special Forces operators from locations in Mali.
The mission, although not the last of this particular Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) exercise events to the Pan-Sahel region of Africa, brought the the ‘Air Commandos' of the 352nd Special Operations Group, based out of Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, a bit closer to heading home.
The unit trained and flew with members of the U.S. Army's 3rd and 1st Battalions, 10th Special Forces Groups (Airborne), in addition to Senegalese and Malian Army paratroopers over the approximate two-week long deployment.
Concentrating on the basic standard special operations mission sets including long-range desert movement and patrolling, airborne resupply, small unit tactics, and troop-leading procedures, JCET events are designed to enhance military effectiveness and the ongoing military-to-military relationship that the U.S. enjoys with countries in the region and are part of European Command's partnership initiatives.
"The training and flying operations have gone very well," said Air Force Lt. Col. "Buck" Elton, 352nd SOG mission commander. "Not only have we delivered 100 percent of the planned requested support from our ground components, we've taken advantage of every training opportunity, inserting additional events in the overall operation when it was safe and reasonable to do so."
Early in the deployment, the unit's search, evasion, rescue and escape instructor realized that some of the more austere locations provided a good environment for realistic training. He set up a training scenario.
Surprised aircrew members responded to an inject card which read in part, "your aircraft is hit with an RPG and is on fire, you have 20 seconds to evacuate the aircraft." After 5 hours of sand, scrub brush, and ‘Africa-hot' 120 to 130 degree heat, the unilateral training event was over.
Capt. John McBeth, a doctor, assigned to the 352nd SOG, augmented an Army Medical Civil Action team, because the doctor originally slated to the Humanitarian Assistance mission was unable to go. Capt. McBeth volunteered to work at the remote village clinic, tending to more than 100 patients.
"We treated folks for the usual - malaria and malnutrition," said McBeth. A task made more difficult due to limited facilities.
The joint medical team based out of Bamako and Gao in Mali, and Dakar in Senegal, saw approximately 400 patients in total, provided more than 200 pairs of adjustable-vision spectacles, 40 dental checkups and supplied locals with over 300 toothbrushes.
The adjustable-vision spectacles were particularly interesting to the patients, who referred to them as "magic glasses." The patient simply looks at an eye chart, while a technician squeezes water in between two layers of flexible plastic. When the lens expands to the correct thickness, the eye chart comes into focus for the patient.
Deployments like this provide an opportunity for U.S. military members to train with African airborne forces. "We've been out here for approximately six weeks, mainly working with the Malians, we've had an opportunity to conduct small arms training and unit tactics, and humanitarian operations alongside their troops," said Maj. Doug Orman, deployed mission commander, 1st Bn., 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Böblingen, Germany, prior to the ‘Friendship Drop' on the final day of the deployment. "We always welcome the chance to work and fly with the 352nd SOG and sharing ground and air capabilities with local national forces," he said. "It enhances their training and better prepares them to police their own borders."
A ‘Friendship Drop' is normally conducted near the end of a JCET and serves a two-fold purpose. It builds camaraderie among forces, and it is a good last-chance for one more training opportunity, maximizing effort and training dollars.
While conducting airborne operations in Senegal, the U.S. Ambassador to Senegal, Janice Jacobs, watched the parachute drops aboard the MC-130H Combat Talon II. "I think it's important people learn about how our troops go into other countries to train them and to get trained themselves," Jacobs said. "We are all fighting the same enemy."
Steve Kraft, U.S. Embassy to Mali, Deputy Chief of Mission, also commented on the importance of the training exchange.
"It was excellent. This type of military cooperation is needed and well received by the Malian military and government," he said before the flight to drop Malian paratroopers for a ‘Friendship drop' in Mali. "Not only did we accomplish great training for the 352nd SOG, but we also helped build better relationships with many other partners in the Global War on Terrorism," said Air Force Col. Brian Cutts, 352nd SOG deputy commander. "Teamwork with Army Special Forces and the Embassy teams was outstanding. I was especially pleased with the desire of the host nations to work with the United States to deny terrorists a safe haven in the region."