Marine Task Force, Burundian soldiers conduct exercise

Marine Corps

MUDUBUGU, Burundi,

Sep 18, 2013  — Marines and Sailors with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa 13 are conducting a 10-week predeployment exercise currently under way with Burundi National Defense Force soldiers to prepare them for assignments in Somalia.

The purpose of the exercise is to strengthen Burundian soldiers’ security capabilities. Burundi supplies troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia, a regional peacekeeping mission, and supports Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa’s mission to provide stability and security in the region.

“We’re here to share best practices with the Burundian military to help them prepare for when they go to Somalia,” said U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Ryan Miller, assistant team leader.

Launched in July, the exercise will conclude Sept. 27 and builds Burundian soldiers’ skills in areas such as medical care, infantry, basic weapons training, marksmanship, unexploded ordnance recognition, land navigation and patrolling. The exercise is being held at Mudubugu and Parachutiste, two sites near the nation’s capital, Bujumbura.

“The exercise enabled us improve in some areas and learn new items,“ said a Burundian captain. “Overall, the knowledge we’re gaining will be a great advantage in the future.”

Most of the Burundian soldiers participating in the exercise have deployed to Somalia and shared their experiences with the Marines.

“They have a lot of experience,” said U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Martin Garcia, a combat engineer and Marsville, Va., native. “They‘ve taught me about the improvised explosive devices they’ve seen in Somalia, and I shared with them the types of IEDs I’ve seen in Afghanistan.

Both the Burundians and Americans said working together benefitted them.

“The best way to learn from them or teach them is to spend time with them, Miller said. “Even though they’re from Burundi, Africa, and I’m from New York, we still have things in common and are learning from one another.”

The first half of the exercise consists of classroom and hands-on training. In the next three weeks, they will be paired up by military specialties.

“Our hospital corpsmen will work with their hospital corpsmen, our infantry with their infantry, and so on,” said Garcia.

The final week is a field exercise, enabling the Burundian soldiers to demonstrate all of the newly gained knowledge. At the conclusion, each country will share what they learned from one another.

“Once finished, we will debrief and look at what information is most useful,” said the Burundian captain. “An advantage for doing this is to take back improvements to share with other members of our unit.”

Many U.S. Marines said they are impressed with the Burundian soldiers professionalism.

“They’re very hard-working and want to learn more and more every day, said U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. David Ash, a motor transport maintenance chief. “Marines are ecstatic to train with Burundians. Most understand this is an opportunity of a lifetime to learn a new culture and customs.”

Burundian soldiers said they hoped the exercises, the third held this year, would continue.

“The exercise makes a big difference,” said a Burundian corporal. “It’s important to share best practices with other militaries, because it gives us a chance to share the same experiences. Together, we learn more.”

Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa 13 currently has about 300 Marines and Sailors throughout East Africa participating in military-to-military engagements to strengthen U.S Africa Command’s ability to assist partner nations address their security concerns. Nearly 20 Marines and Sailors participated in the exercise in Burundi.

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