Kentucky National Guard Engineers with the 577th Sapper Company and 123rd Airlift Wing, traveled more than 15,000 miles to Camp Lemonier, Djibouti to conduct training with the Djiboutian military de-mining company as a part of the State Partnership Program (SPP) August 19 – 29, 2021.
For over 25 years, through SPP, the National Guard has conducted military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals, and leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements; spanning military, government, and economic and social spheres. Kentucky maintains state partnerships with Djibouti and Ecuador.
"Our goals were to enhance each other's knowledge of a wide variety of explosive threats that Soldiers face on the battlefield including; improvised explosive device (IED), Unexploded ordnance (UXO), and landmine hazards," said Army Capt . William M. Fegenbush, commander of the 577th Sapper Co., and officer in charge of the expedition. "This equal sharing of knowledge and experience holds great potential for the increased effectiveness and safety of both United States Forces and those of the Republic of Djibouti."
Training relationships like these are crucial to the survival of members of the Djibouti De-mining company which lost four Djiboutian soldiers during routine route clearance over the last three years.
The De-mining unit was established in 2001 to ensure that Djibouti could become mine-free after years of civil war throughout the 1990s; this was achieved in 2003.
Eighteen years later, mines remain a threat in the surrounding region. Djibouti currently supports de-mining efforts in support of Operation African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM); an active, regional peacekeeping mission operated by the African Union with the approval of the United Nations.
As Kentucky and Djiboutian forces met in blistering temperatures; the heat, language barrier, and stresses of training were factors that would occur. However, both partner nations were able to overcome those challenges and learn from each other.
With only one translator being shared among 32 personnel and operating with different equipment in different areas of the compound, everyone had to get creative for communication.
"One of my most memorable moments was sharing how to use a mine detector without a translator," said Tech. Sgt. Dylan Wagner, explosive ordnance disposal technician, 123rd Airlift Wing. "Their expressions and feedback showed me that mimed actions and charades might have been more impactful than the traditional method using words. It's moments like these that make you realize how much you take for granted, and I am thankful to have had this opportunity to learn and share with my counterparts."
Lifesaving information exchange makes the state partnership program so impactful for each partner nation. Safer practices and unit morale increase as a result.
"They feel good, they feel better," said Capt. Le Mohamed Louaita, commander for Djiboutian Demining Co. "When the United States comes, we can help each other be better. That is what we all need to grow and help others."
For Maj. Chad Brinton, chief of the Office of Security Cooperation at the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti, this experience has a bigger meaning.
"The OSC office plays a role in the national security strategy through the United States Embassy. The State Partnership Program is a fantastic asset toward attaining that goal," said Brinton. "Your Kentucky service members come here and can share knowledge, skills, and experiences that help us diplomatically, but also with Djibouti and the US security interests in the region."
As training concluded, participants left with new knowledge and experiences. The Kentucky – Djibouti state partnership continues to display the best that each partner has to offer.
SPP, State Partnership Program, Djibouti, Kentucky National Guard, Sapper, essayons, 123rd airwing, Kentucky air guard, 577th Sapper Co., camp lemonier, Africom