Incoming EARF completes validation, demonstrates crisis response capability
Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa
Members of the U.S. Army’s Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment from Fort Stewart, Georgia, completed a validation exercise Feb. 13, 2016, at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, displaying their ability to assume responsibility from Alpha Company, 3-15 Infantry Regiment, as the East Africa Response Force assigned to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.
The EARF serves as one of U.S. Africa Command’s crisis response capabilities, and is tasked with responding to emergency situations at U.S. Embassies in the East African region or in countries around the CJTF-HOA area of responsibility.
Events in Africa and the complexity of the security environment have demonstrated the need for specialized response forces capable of responding to emergencies at U.S. diplomatic facilities in Africa. This factor led to the creation of EARF teams.
The validation exercise consisted of two parts: executing rapid mobility through a deployment and providing self-sustained security for the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti.
“This exercise allows us to evaluate the assets and level of ability we have for accomplishing this type of mission,” said U.S. Army Capt. Brian Hotchkiss, Bravo Company commander. “It’s also a validation of the other assets involved in getting the EARF on the ground. It’s the logistics piece, the communications piece, the medical piece – assuring they are properly coordinated and assisting each other.”
“A quick response is critical because we need to be able to respond if an embassy is attacked, or be there early enough to prevent an attack,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jonathan Hall, EARF combat engineer. “Being proficient is important because we need to get it right the first time. Time is critical. If we take an extra 15 minutes, that’s 15 minutes earlier we could have been at the embassy.”
After being recalled in the early hours of the morning, EARF members responded and immediately began by prepping personal gear and equipment. Shortly after, teams began building pallets with all the necessities for self-sustainment and mission accomplishment.
The pallets and dozens of infantrymen were loaded onto a C-130J Super Hercules from the 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. Within minutes of being fully loaded, the aircraft was preparing for takeoff.
“Even just to build and load a pallet onto an aircraft seems very simple, but there are multiple levels of approval,” Hotchkiss said. “Getting all these different players together, in a very short period of time, is a challenge.”
Upon landing back at Camp Lemonnier, EARF members unloaded the aircraft and proceeded to the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti, as they would during a real-world event. The Soldiers practiced establishing a perimeter and entry control points to safeguard the embassy personnel and facilities.
“At the ECP we are the force that handles everything that comes in and out,” Hall said. “We have to stop an attack before it happens.”
Overall, both portions of the two-part exercise demonstrated to the participating Soldiers the importance of the EARF teams, the EARF mission and their potential role in keeping American interests and personnel safe in East Africa and beyond.
“(This exercise) demonstrates a clear understanding of the rules of engagement and mission intent in a complex and asymmetric environment,” Hotchkiss said. “It develops adaptive thinking during scenarios that are not typically organic to an infantry company.”
The incoming Bravo Company has the advantage of replacing their brother company from Fort Stewart. They are already familiar with the way Alpha Company operates enabling them to continue developing vital programs such as joint and multinational interoperability.
“We want to pass on our lessons learned… so they can fully understand the mission here and have a seamless transition,” said U.S. Army Capt. Reamer Argo, EARF Alpha Company commander. “We were never called forward to go to an embassy, but our biggest accomplishment was always being ready. To sustain that, we are constantly training and that training includes Marines, Navy, Air Force and the French military.”
“We are from the same battalion so there is an automatic level of cohesion,” Hotchkiss continued. “We have trained together in the same environment, doing the same things, so I think that we have a bond and a different dynamic than most would as we change over. At the same time, it doesn’t make a difference in how we do the job, we are always going to do our best to set ourselves up for success.”
Now that Bravo Company has confirmed their ability to continue the EARF mission, they officially replaced Alpha Company and became part of Task Force Seminole during a transfer of authority ceremony Feb. 17. As Alpha Company retrieved their unit colors, Bravo Company unfurled theirs to replace it.
With the new organization, comes a new set of goals and expectations.
“I want my soldiers to experience the joint and multinational climate, to experience Africa and to become more worldly.” Hotchkiss said. “Our training and mission continue wherever we go. In the end I want our (Soldiers) to go home better trained — better physically, mentally and emotionally — so they are prepared for their future in the Army.”