CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti – Nearly 200 Soldiers from the 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (MEB), of Sioux Falls, South Dakota Army National Guard became the new headquarters staff after arriving at Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), Sept. 25, 2020.
When CJTF-HOA as a headquarters was initially conceived, it was built out of individual augmentees from every different service. With a high turnover rate and continuity challenges – CJTF-HOA looked for a solution.
“As with all the forward operations outside the continental U.S. each of the services is responsible for providing members to meet the mission, sometimes it’s done as a whole unit,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Damian T. Donahoe, deputy commanding general, CJTF-HOA. “For CJTF-HOA, in the most recent past they have been filling positions with joint individual augmentees. Previously every month we were rotating out staff member’s constantly so there was always a retraining period every single month while at the same time having to conduct operations.”
CJTF-HOA was looking for a single unit solution that could perform headquarters functions, deploy as a unit, and perform turnover with other like units less frequently -- the initial finding was that a maneuver enhancement brigade would be the solution.
“Usually the MEB would be the command element as a brigade headquarters,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Lew Weber, South Dakota Army National Guard liaison officer. “This is the first time I’ve seen where a headquarters element like this comes and becomes a part of another headquarters. I wouldn’t say it’s going to be challenging, it’s just going to be different.”
CJTF-HOA is a dynamic operational headquarters, effectively supporting partner nations’ efforts in countering violent extremist organizations in East Africa.
More than 5,000 personnel are assigned to CJTF-HOA headquarters and contingency locations throughout the Horn of Africa. The team is uniquely diverse and is represented by personnel from different service branches and partner nations, making CJTF-HOA truly a joint forces command.
CJTF-HOA is staffed by service members from the U.S. Army, with the greatest number of personnel, followed, in descending number, by civilians and contractors, Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy, coalition partners and Coast Guard.
When U.S. forces first started at Camp Lemonnier until now, there have been many points of transition and mission sets evolving, and according to Donahoe, this is just a natural progression and developmental opportunity.
“As with any transition of personnel, we utilize it as an opportunity to learn and grow so this is just one more part of CJTF-HOA’s evolution,” Donahoe said. “One of the biggest benefits this is going to provide is continuity for a longer period of time with the majority of the staff.”
As part of the global force management process, Donahoe said that, going forward, they would look at the 196th MEB and how they utilize the personnel on the staff as well as other functions that are supported.
“We are going to take a look at not just the MEB, but everything on the staff and we are going to see what best benefits Africa Command and our U.S. citizens that we represent going forward and what we should recommend back through the Department of Defense for future iterations,” Donahoe said.
According the Weber, the new HOA staff will be gainfully employed and is excited to show their capabilities.
“From the South Dakota standpoint, we do not want people to think we are coming in and trying to take over – we are going to come in and be a part of an already amazing team,” Weber said.
Donahoe shared similar sentiments about the new HOA staff’s arrival and the importance of working together.
“The key thing is we are all partners in this,” Donahoe said. “Regardless of whether you have been on the HOA staff prior to October or you are a part of the new staff, we are partners in this--not just CJTF-HOA but everyone else who works on this side of the world. What we are doing together is fundamentally important to meet a strategic mission and by being partners together we will be able to accomplish not only our missions but support everybody else in their missions.”
During Maj. Gen. Lapthe C. Flora’s, commanding general, CJTF-HOA, first time addressing the new HOA staff he stated how following CDC guidelines of proper mask wear and social distancing were part of his top priorities to ensure getting the mission done while combating the spread of COVID-19.
Flora also stressed the importance of respect in his command.
“For me respect is one of the most important things,” Flora said. “I need all of you to have great respect for one another. If we do that—we don’t have to worry about sexual assault, harassment, or racism in our formation—it’s a simple as that. Just respect one another and respect each other’s differences.”
Flora then spoke on how this is not a typical deployment for a MEB.
“This is a very unique deployment,” Flora said. “This is the very first time that a MEB will deploy here at CJTF-HOA to fill as the headquarters staff. You all came from the same unit with a very proud history, but for the next 9 months you are members of CJTF-HOA.”