JUNE 26, 2017, DJIBOUTI CITY, Djibouti – In military terminology, “the range is hot” is a warning that weapons are currently authorized to fire on a training range. This term has dual meaning here for military members, who are no strangers to the brutal heat of the training ranges located in the mountains along the Gulf of Tadjoura’s southern coast.
This arid locale requires rigorous planning in advance of exercises. U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Neil Loaiza, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, has the responsibility of coordinating the use of the ranges between all U.S. service branches and international partners.
Loaiza explained that the Djiboutian military has allowed its international partners to use these mountain ranges as a training site for many years.
“The French first established the training sites,” said Loaiza. “Today, the ranges are very active, used by both U.S. forces and international partners who seek to train, qualify and sustain their qualifications on a variety of weapons systems.”
The area has become a valuable asset to the melting pot of militaries in Djibouti, offering a suitable site for joint exercises and multinational training opportunities.
However, the site is not without its challenges. Safely navigating the rocky terrain to and from the ranges is always a priority. Vast areas of black volcanic stone limit vehicle transport options. The rocky dirt paths carved out by vehicle traffic are often washed away by brief flash floods. Rocks have punctured tires and steep inclines have proven difficult to navigate. The logistics of moving troops and equipment out to the range is a training experience within itself.
Also, the range is hot — literally — with temperatures soaring into triple digits for much of the year, and the dry, dusty atmosphere offers little opportunity for natural shade or shelter.
Loaiza’s job is to help coordinate different organizations using the range. He communicates with foreign militaries to ensure that others know when the range is going to be “hot”. Loaiza also inspects the ranges following any training to ensure that each range has been properly cleaned up, with no unexploded ordinance or excessive brass litter left behind.
“I maintain communication with various liaisons to organize each request based on what type of training they wish to accomplish,” Loaiza said. “Different ranges are cleared for different types of ammunition and weaponry. Certain days of the week have no live-fire times, so I have to factor all these things into the planning.”
And the diverse topography of the location offers an element unique to these ranges.
“Various exercises have utilized the natural elements such as a beach, well situated for amphibious landings and observation points,” Loaiza commented. “There are large flat areas that offer enough room for a C-130 to land and take off from a smooth dirt surface. The training possibilities are plentiful.”
U.S. Army soldiers of the Bravo Company “Bushmasters,” 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, deployed with Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, used the range recently to perform night-firing qualifications. As part of the East African Response Force, Bravo Company enables a quick reaction force charged with deploying and safeguarding U.S. embassies and interests in the region. Advanced training and preparation is a necessity, as the Soldiers must be ready to mobilize at any hour.
“We used the range to train a small team during both the day and during limited visibility, to shoot and maneuver and neutralize the enemy,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joshua King, platoon sergeant for Bravo Company. “The fire team leader controlled his team by issuing moving, firing and security commands. Throughout this exercise he reported the developing situation and after the actions on contact.”
The unit was especially prepared to handle any elements of the training exercise, since the team had Soldiers with a variety of military specialty skills onsite, including a squad of combat engineers. Within minutes of arriving at the site, the engineers erected a shade canopy and began to set up targets and prevented the Soldiers’ dehydration with electrolyte powders and water.
“The training reinforces our readiness as a quick reaction force,” King said. “We achieved qualifications, made corrections and observations involving individual movement techniques, fire commands, sectors of fire, target discrimination, security, and control.”
The ranges in Djibouti are proving to be a vital link in the chain of the Combined Joint Task Force’s efforts to strengthen partner nations’ defense capabilities and assist U.S. Africa Command in promoting security and stability throughout the continent.
By Tech. Sgt. Joseph Harwood