CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti –
Virginia and Kentucky National Guard Soldiers assigned to Task Force Red Dragon serving in Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa joined French Forces and units from Camp Lemonnier March 13-15, 2022, for the French-led Exercise WAKRI 22 in Djibouti.
Exercise WAKRI, the largest annual French-led exercise in Djibouti, took place across the country and provided realistic training for French Armed Forces air, ground and sea components alongside their U.S. Allies.
Two U.S. platoons with Task Force Red Dragon, one from the Virginia National Guard’s Alpha Company 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and one from the Kentucky National Guard’s Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry Regiment, 116th IBCT, made up one red force cell and one blue force cell, respectively. The task force also provided U.S. support elements to strengthen logistical capabilities.
Participating French assets included more than 2,000 French Armed Forces, 150 vehicles, including 70 armored, four French Dassault Mirage fighter jets, Joint Terminal Attacks Controllers (JTAC), ground-to-air artillery, mortar teams, Gazelle and Puma helicopters. From CJTF-HOA, the U.S. provided planners, public affairs, medical staff and two infantry platoons. Other units from Camp Lemonnier included ships from Marine Expeditionary Security Squadron (MISRON) and an explosive ordnance disposal team.
On the morning of March 13, the French Mistral-class LHD ship unloaded vehicles and ground forces onto Arta Beach, Djibouti to hone their amphibious assault skills, officially kicking off Exercise WAKRI 22. Over the next three days, the exercise included more than 100 individual incidents in addition to constant blue and red force skirmishes, command and control communication and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).
The overarching exercise scenario involved hostile forces attempting to establish supply routes on the beach, while simultaneously moving forces toward the capital. The blue forces continuously forced the red forces to withdraw using further from their intended goals, creating opportunities for further simulated attacks until all “enemies” were eliminated.
“Blue forces attacked Arta Beach and launched their counter attack from Djibouti to the south,” said French Army Capt. Hugo, a FFDJ company commander and red team lead. “Red Forces opposed them from the north to the south in a retrograde maneuver.”
The U.S. Soldiers with blue team conducted joint operations with armored cavalry platoons, engineers, and reconnaissance platoons. They received operations orders from French command to conduct large-scale battle coordination with the French.
“From this training we gain rehearsals on our own tactics and standard operating procedures,” said Virginia Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Cameron Belcher, East Africa Response Force (EARF), CJTF-HOA. “And we also get to build relationships and familiarity with our Allies’ capabilities and assets.”
WAKRI strengthens the U.S. and French interoperability through hands-on experience and creating opportunities to gain knowledge about the allied countries’ operating tactics, techniques and procedures; it is an effective venue to continue development of the long-standing partnership, said Belcher.
In addition to improving interoperability, the exercise reinforces capabilities and allows practical training for one of the French Armed Forces key missions in the country: the defense of Djibouti.
“This exercise shows that we are able to set up efficient allied arms companies ready to be deployed,” said Hugo. “This exercise is focused on being able to respond to real-world events.”
The three-day exercise demonstrated how the U.S. and France train together to defend against threats, strengthening their collective security forces and promoting regional security, stability, and prosperity.
More than 1,000 Virginia and Kentucky Army National Guard Soldiers from units located in Bedford, Charlottesville, Lexington, Pulaski and Suffolk Virginia, and from Somerset, Kentucky, are mobilized as Task Force Red Dragon under the command of the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, to provide a security force in support of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. It is the largest VNG single-unit mobilization since World War II.
View more photos from the exercise on DVIDS at https://ngpa.us/19120
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