DJIBOUTI – Vermont National Guard Spc. Caylen De Los Reyes completed the demanding French Desert Commando Course.
An 11B infantry Soldier with Charlie Troop, 1st Squadron, 172nd Cavalry (Mountain), 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, De Los Reyes is attached to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. A few times each year, the French military, which maintains nearby military installations, makes the course available to U.S. troops stationed in the region.
"Approximately 70 people tried out, and only 38 attended the actual course. Prequalification included the Ranger Physical Fitness Test, an aquatic obstacle course, rope climb, a six-mile ruck march and basic infantry squad tactical skills," De Los Reyes said.
Those qualifying must complete an additional assessment comprised of a five-mile run and another swim test through water obstacles.
Over 12 days, Soldiers undergo challenges that include a mountain confidence course, knot test, night obstacle course, aquatic obstacle course, and squad, platoon and company infantry training exercises. There was also hand-to-hand combat, and desert combat and survival skills, weapons training and land navigation.
"In the most enduring day, we had to perform the aquatic, mountain and combat obstacle courses, one after the other while carrying a fully combat loaded rucksack from event to event," De Los Reyes said.
Members of the French Foreign Legion run the course at the French Army Combat Training Center at Arta Beach.
Familiarization with French infantry weapons and military rations was provided, "although most meals were American MREs," De Los Reyes said.
The Vermont Guardsman said the experience enhanced his readiness "by acclimation to the weather, terrain, and Soldiers with different military occupational specialties working together, and continual physical exhaustion."
De Los Reyes recommends the FDCC course to National Guard Soldiers 100 percent.
"Communication was fluid and there were no issues," he said. "The French generally take a more head-on, less tactically complicated approach in their lanes."
Those completing the course earn a medal they may display on U.S. military dress uniforms.