By Sgt. Samuel Guerra, Marine Corps Forces Africa
THIES, SENEGAL — Senegal’s 5th Contingent in Mali and U.S. Marines with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Africa (SPMAGTF-CR-AF) have worked together to conduct theater security cooperation peacekeeping operation (PKO) training at Thies, Senegal, May 15 – June 16, 2017.The training was designed to enhance the soldiers’ abilities to successfully deploy in support of United Nations peacekeeping missions in the continent. Less than 40 Marines and Sailors with SPMAGTF-CR-AF Ground Combat Element were able to effectively train over 550 soldiers in multiple areas of interest, to include counter improvised explosive devices lanes, military operations in urban training, patrolling fundamentals, convoy operations and M16A2 rifle and M60 machinegun unknown distance ranges.
“We carefully reviewed [the soldiers’] reports before we began instructing and oriented our curriculum to prepare them for what they may experience abroad,” said Sgt. Timothy Kuklis, team one primary instructor with the unit. “This bilateral mission was extremely important for both the Senegalese and the U.S. Marine Corps. This allows us to work with our allies and demonstrate the positive things we are able to accomplish in a non-wartime environment.”
Marines and Sailors aided as instructors and monitored the soldiers’ progress throughout the different phases of training. With the help of interpreters, the two forces were able to communicate and mitigate material that could have been lost in translation. The Senegalese displayed a high level of trust in their instructors, some even approaching the Marines individually to absorb more information.
“It was a great experience to see some of my Marines who were in the fleet for less than a year become subject matter experts and take their lessons seriously,” Kuklis said. “They were able to effectively pass on knowledge to the soldiers and demonstrated that Marines continue to [exemplify] proficiency.”
The soldiers were ultimately tested during the finishing exercise (FINEX), a series of scenario based situations the Marines used to evaluate their performance. Throughout the FINEX, Marines were pleased to see their allies apply the fundamentals they recently learned. The extensive training afforded the soldiers an opportunity to gain a realistic peacekeeping experience and determine their level of expertise.
“Based off our training, I’m very confident the Senegalese soldiers will have a successful deployment in Mali,” said 1st. Lt. Conor Bender, logistics theater security cooperation team leader with the unit. “They were skillful in their respective fields, proving they can retain knowledge and are capable of accomplishing their missions.”
The PKO reinforced the Marine Corps’ reputation as an expeditionary force in readiness and as a dependable partner. This training also strengthened the bond between Senegal and the U.S., as well as established their presence as helpful allies in the region.
“We’re building stronger relationships with African nations through this type of training,” Bender said. “This is the brick and mortar for how we can further institute ourselves as a good friend in the region and build a sturdy foundation with partners we may work again with in the future.”