For a small contingent of U.S. Marines assigned to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the USS Bataan (LHD 5), a respite from the metal confines of the ship allowed for an exchange of warrior skills and tactics with members of Djibouti’s premier reactionary force, the Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN), at Cheik Moussa, Djibouti, November 13 to December 2, 2011.
The exchange designated U.S. Marines from the Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, to conduct infantry-specific exercises in close-combat techniques, enhanced marksmanship and vehicle operation.
« Our intent was to come out here and get the GIGN proficient on the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, » said U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant Josh Guffey, lead MCMAP instructor trainer during the mission.
Guffey and his fellow team members were selected to conduct the bilateral event based on their infantry tactical expertise from multiple deployments in combat areas around the globe.
The team set up base camp at the Centre D’Instruction Ministere de la Defense, an initial military training facility on the outskirts of Djibouti City, and quickly built a strong rapport with the members of the GIGN, Guffey said.
« We collaboratively established a training program with the GIGN based on their mission, » said U.S. Marine 1st Lieutenant Jason Oldenkamp, officer-in-charge of the event. « The GIGN is essentially Djibouti’s special weapons and tactics force so they must be ready for any situation or mission that comes their way. As Marines we remain in a constant state of readiness, so we wanted to share this with them, which they readily took in. »
In addition to the training practices shared, this mission also offered Marines and GIGN forces an opportunity to learn more about one another, on a cultural level.
« The exercises we conducted were also a great opportunity for us to exchange mutual cultural understanding, along with our tactics and techniques, » Oldenkamp said.
During the three-week event, the members of the GIGN and Marines experienced the various levels of MCMAP, to include certifying several GIGN non-commissioned officers as MCMAP instructor-trainers and assisting the GIGN in developing their marksmanship proficiency.
« I’ve trained with a number of foreign forces in previous deployments, » said U.S. Marine Sergeant Kapeielu Faiivae, black belt MCMAP instructor. « We show them how we do things as Marines, but we also gain a lot of perspective from them too. This was a great chance for us to learn how they operate as a unit and we also learned about their culture and history. »
Faiivae said the opportunity to train with foreign forces is rewarding because the experience exchanged is a benefit all around.
« We’re sharing more than just the techniques required to be effective in a combat situation, » Guffey said, referring to the physical, mental and character disciplines encompassing MCMAP.
He said a key priority for him was to convey to the GIGN the « Marine warrior concept. »
« The (MCMAP) program trains Marines in unarmed combat, and also stresses mental and character development, which includes the responsible use of force, leadership and teamwork, » he said.
Guffey set aside training time to exchange « warrior mentality » between the GIGN and the Marine trainers.
« We did some good, hard physical training with the GIGN, but always followed it with a discussion on the mental aspect of engaging in combat, » he said.
The discussions included learning about martial cultures such as the Spartans, Zulus and Apaches. By studying these cultures, Marines learn fundamental tactics and methods of the past and reconnect themselves with the warrior ethos of the Marine Corps.
Guffey said this is where the GIGN and his team reaped the highest reward.
« I love training Marines, and the opportunity to work with other forces such as the GIGN is always a win because we have the opportunity to exchange each other’s experiences and perspective, » he said.
These exercises were not the first time the Marines had worked with the GIGN.
« This is the third iteration of U.S. Marines working with the GIGN at Cheik Moussa, » said Lieutenant Ilias Aden, commander of the GIGN. « The training–with these Marines– is by far some of the toughest, most relevant training my men have received to date since the U.S. Marine Corps began conducting bilateral training with our forces. We’ll continue and incorporate the experience we gained from them in the future. »
The Marines left the GIGN with training and proficiency they will continue to use, but they also gained new camaraderie with the GIGN.
« We learned just as much from the GIGN as they learned from us, » said Oldenkamp. « They stayed motivated and exceeded expectations at every step of the way during our three weeks here. We definitely leave here humbled by their hospitality–they treated us with the utmost professionalism and also as brothers-in-arms. We leave here with a great sense of camaraderie. »
By Supunnee Ulibarri
Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa Public Affairs