‘U.S. Soldiers To Train Nigerian Army Troops,’ – U.S. Department Of Defense
Twelve U.S. soldiers provided tactics and training instruction to about 200 Nigerian army soldiers from the 26th Infantry Battalion. The seven-week training course includes instruction on reacting to an improvised explosive device, reacting to an ambush, securing an objective, operations planning and more. Army photo by Capt. James Sheehan
Leaving major metropolitan infrastructure behind, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley’s perspective on future combat operations in austere conditions becomes a reality. Jaji isn’t home to the creature comforts found in Middle Eastern forward operating bases. No Burger King. No Pizza Hut. No air-conditioning or internet. No running water. However, there are plenty of buckets.
“We walk over to this big pump and get our own water to flush our toilets, since water happens intermittently,” explained Army Capt. Aaron Harris. “It’s not always a fixed system or anything like that.”
Harris is ordinarily a forward support company commander for the 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, New York. But out here, Harris uses his logistics background to support a team of 12 U.S. soldiers fulfilling a six-week advise-and-assist mission in a remote military compound located about 145 miles north of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
“We have bed space, plenty of places to sleep,” Harris said. “The food’s great; we hired a local, a spouse of one of the Nigerian army soldiers. She cooks for us, provides us water. We have water, hot meals, beds, and mosquito nets. What more can you ask for?”
Even in triple-digit heat and with AK-47 automatic rifles in hand, it’s easy to forget these soldiers are likely headed into imminent danger. The Nigerian army’s 26th Infantry Battalion may be next to deploy northeast to confront the notorious and violent extremist organization, Boko Haram.
Also Read: How Three US Soldiers Were Killed In Niger
“My job is to train you as much as I can. Your job is to fight the bad guys out of your country,” Rodriguez shouted to a group of soldiers demonstrating their best cover and concealment efforts behind Jaji’s bushes and trees.
“Yes. We are hard on them. We have to be. Their life depends on it,” Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Martin of the 10th Mountain Division said after lecturing the 26th on the significance of maintaining noise discipline. “They might need these skills one day. They face a very real and lethal threat. We aren’t going to slow down; we are going to pack as much training in as possible.”
This life-altering responsibility to prepare Nigerian soldiers wasn’t lost on the mission’s leader, Army Capt. Stephen Gouthro.
Gouthro said one of the best parts of the mission was the lack of micromanagement. The closest “flagpole” was thousands of miles away, meaning the closest superior officer was in the United States or Europe.
“What better way to demonstrate mission command,” Gouthro said. “This mission isn’t only about the tactical. Everything our team does could have diplomatic effects. Out here, the team has to be professional, mature and disciplined. And we are.”
All in all, this mission is the definition of the U.S. Army’s top priority: readiness. From pack-out preparations to redeployment operations, this mission challenged junior officers and NCOs to work without built-in support from “Big Army.” Austere conditions, local negotiations, food from the economy, far from higher headquarters, limited digital capabilities, diplomatic implications and foreign-military engagements are only a few examples of how this mission has made these men more ready.
A small support team travelled to Jaji about four weeks into the mission, flying down from U.S. Army Africa’s headquarters in Vicenza, Italy. The travellers asked Gouthro if the team had any requests. Historically speaking, soldiers ask for candy, SIM cards or extra soap. Not this team. Gouthro’s priority remained the mission. He asked for a sizeable knife for a graduation gift to give the Nigerian company’s commander and some smokeless tobacco, commonly known as “dip,” for one of his NCOs.
After four weeks without running water in an austere environment, there was only one message: “Bring a knife and some dip.”