NAVAL AIR STATION SIGONELLA, Italy -- A team of approximately 21 Marines, 10 representing the United States, six from Great Britain, and five from Spain, conducted training in countries along the West African coast February through April 2015.
The Marines, serving as a part of the Africa Partnership Station mission, worked to improve regional safety and security by increasing maritime awareness and response capabilities throughout West Africa. While traveling aboard the USNS Spearhead, the service members worked with local military forces while visiting ports in Ghana, Angola, Cameroon and Gabon. The engagements varied between the countries, with exercises that focused on basic infantry skills, marksmanship, small boat operations, and search and seizure techniques.
The NATO Marines experienced several firsts during this mission; including working with the Ghana Navy’s newly formed Marine-like rapid reaction force. This was also the first time that Marines from the U.S., Great Britain or Spain had worked with Angolan Marines.
The month of February was spent in Ghana, where the integrated Marines working with 32 Ghanaian Sailors at the Jungle Warfare School and the Sekondi Western Naval Base in Ghana.
“This was our first engagement with the new Rapid Reaction force,” said 1st Lt. Scott Mahaffey, the officer in charge of the team. “The sailors showed a real desire to train with us, and after working for three weeks with the unit we built a real camaraderie and learned to work well together.”
Another first for the U.S. Marines and their European counterparts was working with Angolan Marines, who quickly demonstrated their knowledge and skill.
“[The Angolans] know what they’re doing,” said Spanish Marine Staff Sgt. David Flores, a squad leader with the Spanish Marines. “They have a good attitude and desire to train and learn.”
One of the biggest impressions the Angolan Marines made on the multi-national partners was their leadership abilities among the junior ranks.
“You could definitely tell their sergeants were driving the training, like we do with our training,” said U.S. Marine Sgt. Ben Sheely, a squad leader with SPMAGTF-CR-AF.
In Cameroon, the Marines worked with members of the Cameroonian Naval Commando Company at their base near Limbe. The three-day engagement focused on weapons safety and handling, starting with classroom instruction and culminating with a live-fire combat marksmanship exercise.
”Although the engagement was relatively short, we definitely saw an improvement from day one to day four,” said Mahaffey. “We established a building block for future engagements.”
The Marines completed a similar training package focused on marksmanship, the ability to board and search vessels, and small boat operation skills with 52 Marines Nationale in Gabon. The engagement was broken into two week-long increments.
“[The Gabonese] had a basic understanding,” said Mahaffey. “Their boat drivers knew what they were doing, and we were able to really hone their coxswain skills.”
While the training engagements in each country were relatively short, they allowed the participants to learn from each other and develop a working relationship.
“This was a unique experience for our team, not only to be able to work with four African countries, but to do so with a team that included British and Spanish Marines,” said Mahaffey. “For all 10 American members of the team, this was a once in a lifetime experience that we’ll get to take with us.”
According to Mahaffey, the three month mission was like training for the team’s next mission, where they will return to Gabon and work alongside a mixed force of military, national police, and park rangers.