Throughout the year, the French Forces in Djibouti offer an opportunity for U.S. and Djiboutian service members to train with their counterparts at the French Desert Commando Course (FDCC). Americans work alongside the French and Djiboutians to conquer events such as obstacle courses, ruck marches through the mountains and combative training.
While a majority of the participants are men, two women have stepped up to represent the U.S. Army and demonstrate that they can do everything men can do. U.S. Army Capt. Emily Van Klompenburg, medical operations officer, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), and U.S. Army Spc. McKayla Bouska, joint display network controller, CJTF-HOA, were the first U.S. females to participate in the event since 2016.
“What sparked my interest was just getting out, having fun and trying new things,” Bouska said. “I learned about it through an email and a week later we started training to come out here and take a test.”
The French led event provided a unique opportunity to learn from our coalition partners on how they operate.
“I think it’s pretty cool to be working with the French and seeing how they interact with Americans and incorporating us into what they do,” Bouska said. “The fact that they can teach us even with the language barrier is just incredible.”
There were many challenging courses to prepare and look forward to at FDCC. Each event allowed participants to push themselves and put their strengths and weaknesses to the test.
“I was really looking forward to the obstacles, seeing how the French train and showing that we’re just as good as the guys,” Bouska said. “I have never done anything like this before, it’s definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
When Van Klompenburg heard about the event, she was hesitant to attend but, in the end, wanted to take on the challenge.
“I heard about FDCC before coming out here and I had passed it off as something only the guys will do,” Van Klompenburg said. “As the event got closer, it sparked my interest and I took it as an opportunity to challenge myself.”
Even though she was unsure at first, Van Klompenburg had her sights set on one particular obstacle at FDCC.
“I was nervous about the entire event and wondering if I would be able to do it,” Van Klompenburg said. “However, I was really looking forward to the mountain obstacle course.”
When she completed the course, she ended up scoring the second highest time for females in the history of the event. Throughout her time working with the French, she learned what they value and work towards.
“It’s interesting being here with the French and seeing what they value,” van Klompenburg said. “The French really emphasize agility over strength, it was intriguing to see what they value versus what we tend to value.”
Both soldiers successfully completed each event and graduated the course and received their French Desert Commando Badge.