The Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) worked together with Djiboutian and Spanish forces for the biannual Bull Shark exercise at Camp Doraleh and near Arta Range to enhance multinational interoperability May 28 - June 4, 2023.
“Throughout this exercise, we had the privilege of forging an intimate alliance with our esteemed international partners, the United States of America and Spain,” said Col. Wais Omar Bogoreh, commandant of the Djiboutian coast guard. “Their invaluable expertise, support, and seamless cooperation have been instrumental in attaining the resounding success we celebrate today.”
Bull Shark is a crisis response and personnel recovery exercise designed to test communication and interoperability between like-minded partners.
“Each iteration exponentially increases our interoperability, operational skill sets, and common understanding,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jami Shawley, commanding general CJTF - HOA. “Each iteration we try new things and we learn new things as we collectively get better, better together.”
This is the first iteration of exercise Bull Shark to include an academics week to gain familiarization on the main elements of the exercise for the culminating event. The academics week included a knowledge exchange about visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS), medical tactical combat casualty care (TCCC), squad movement, laws of the sea, survival, evasion, resistance, and escape (SERE) training, and a rehearsal of concept drill.
“It was kind of an idea that we came up with together with our operational planning team prior to executing Bull Shark,” said U.S. Army Cpt. Donald Arndt, CJTF - HOA exercise planner. “We were able to determine what key tasks we were going to train on the day of the exercise and go over what we wanted to practice before execution day.”
Exercise Bull Shark’s culminating event included multiple personnel recovery scenarios of land, sea, and air components under simulated fire from a hostile force with participation from multiple U.S. military branches, the Spanish navy and Djiboutian coast guard.
During the land portion, CJTF - HOA security forces and engineer support company collaborated with the Spanish Naval Forces to respond to a simulated private beach invasion, Arndt said. This included assessing casualties which led to the sea portion of the exercise.
While providing close air support to the land portion, the Spanish naval helicopter was notionally shot down prompting a sea rescue mission of two pilots stranded in the water. The Spanish naval forces then sent a request to CJTF - HOA for rescue support as the Djiboutian coast guard secured the area. Then two Spanish naval members were put into the water and CJTF - HOA conducted an aerial hoist to pick them both up, Arndt continued.
“Both the hoist and mass casualty drill is the personal recovery aspect of the mission, and that’s why we practice this exercise,” said Arndt. The exercise required complex multinational logistical coordination to ensure the mission objectives were accomplished while maneuvering safely. Training together as a combined joint force often is vital for understanding how each element operates.
“The two most important things are timing and safety,” said Lt. Federico Supervielle Bergés, a pilot in the Spanish navy. “With timing comes communication which is really important so that everyone is on the same page, which takes a lot of planning beforehand. We had a lot of moving parts, so safety is also very important and a part of making sure that we are able to clearly communicate.”
Exercise Bull Shark planning began months prior to execution, and actively involved all participants.
“We started coordinating this a while before we got to do it, and I think it went well,” Supervielle said. “ I think we got very good training out of it and it’s been fun, but that’s the way for it to go well is to be prepared.”
Practicing these scenarios also allows all participants to work through communication challenges before a real-world event. Every iteration of Bull Shark aims to increase in complexity and incorporate more opportunities for partner nations to learn from one another.
“It was a long day, a hard day, tough day, but it was worth it, and it was a very successful exercise,” said Capt. Mohamed Abdoulkader Ali, chief of the colonel of the Djibouti coast guard commandant. “We look forward to the next Bull Shark exercise, and we just want to thank our American and Spanish counterparts for being helpful, and we gained a lot of knowledge, experience and we'll be ready pretty soon to do more to enhance our capacity building during the next Bull Shark exercise.”