MOTHAX headed to Senegal....
First, some background info. If you get the Marine Corps Times, you can read an article in the August 13th issue about what we have going on there, but for everyone else, you get an outdated story that seems like the mission is the same...
TOUBAKOUTA, Senegal, Apr 25, 2011 — The Marines of second platoon, Ground Combat Element, Security Cooperation Task Force (SCTF), Africa Partnership Station 2011 recently kicked off the Senegal chapter of APS-11's military-to-military exchanges along the west African coast. Africa Partnership Station 2011 is a U.S. Africa Command maritime security assistance program that is designed to strengthen participating nations' maritime security capacity through multilateral collaboration and cross-border cooperation. Marine Corps Forces, Africa is supporting APS-11 with a SCTF based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Amid countless miles of cashew trees, savannah brush and barren Senegal desert, and together with about 100 Senegalese Commandos and Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service troops, the 45-man platoon is welcoming the close of a rigorous first week of training just outside of town here. As the training regimen picks up pace, it's apparent to the Marines that cooperation is imperative to the success of the partnership, and is easily achieved even in a culture as different as Senegal's.
"It's interesting to see how quickly the Senegalese learn the material despite a language barrier," said Corporal Steven Bray, an armorer attached to second platoon. "It also helps that when we're not training, we're still together. We're trying their food and they're trying ours, we talk to each other in the evenings and we train with one another all day. It makes for a great partnership," he added.
Now, the background on my involvement comes from the July issue of The American Legion Magazine. I got 5 complaints about that article, and a ton of good comments. The bad comments amounted to one (now former) Legionnaire who complained that one of the guys on the cover was wearing a National Guard patch, and according to him "Those damn Guardsmen have been getting people killed since Korea, and I won't be with any organization which supports them." No sense arguing with him and letting him know I was a former Guardsman, I doubt it would have done any good. The other 4 complaints centered on my "Army-centric" stories; people rightly suggested that I spend time with other services as well.
Fair enough complaint. I do tend to spend more time in my Army comfort zone if mainly because I understand the organization and lingo better. But, the complaints allowed me to approach my Editor who authorized 4 more world-wide trips to do articles for the magazine, covering the USMC, the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. This trip is the culmination of my USMC search.
To answer a question I have been getting a lot: I have no idea what I will write about, since I tend to go and then figure out what is interesting, rather than coming up with a topic and looking into it. Essentially though, I suspect it will be something about the military exerting soft power in Africa, as opposed to hard power or direct military action. Doing counter-narcotics and training the local forces is a good way to build rapport up front, and possibly guide the African forces before we need to work with them if there is some sort of incursion of "bad guys."
And there does appear to be a distinct possibility that Senegal might be problematic down the road. There is a separatist movement in the South that seeks independance for the Casamance Region.
Suspected rebels on Friday killed a Senegalese soldier and wounded four others in the restive southern province of Casamance, military sources said.
The soldiers were attacked as they came upon rebels "who were in the process of committing a hold-up" north of Casamance's main city Zinguinchor, and in the ensuing firefight "we recorded one death and four injuries," an officer said.
Anyway, I am not actually going to that area, but will be further north, above Gambia.
So, that's the situation. There is a fairly good chance that I won't be blogging for the next two weeks starting this weekend. I'm leaving this weekend (after my 2nd Anniversary) and get back around the 23rd. There's a possibility I will have internet access there, but I honestly have no idea. As soon as I know, you will know.
If my iPhone works over there, I will be updating my Facebook page at least.