In 2012, the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi was attacked before U.S. forces could respond. To ensure such a tragedy never happens again, the Department of Defense directed Combatant Commands to always be ready for a rapid respond to any crisis situation within their areas of responsibility. Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa fulfills this directive for U.S. Africa Command with regular Emergency Deployment Readiness (EDRE) exercises to ensure the command is prepared for any contingency.
On Oct. 10, 2023, CJTF-HOA performed an EDRE that tested their ability to successfully reach, augment and ultimately evacuate the U.S. Embassy Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in a simulated natural disaster situation.
While most of CJTF-HOA’s readiness exercises deal specifically with the East Africa Response Force (EARF) and CJTF-HOA staff’s ability to rapidly respond to simulated threats to regional U.S. assets, this EDRE involved embassy staff in the training as well. In order to ensure mission success in the exercise, both teams came together ahead of time to plan operations.
“A typical EDRE at CJTF-HOA only lasts up until the point Soldiers, Airmen, and/or Marines load an aircraft with their equipment,” said Maj. Brandon Spradlin, EARF Forward Coordination Element Team Lead. “While we typically involve select members of a US Embassy staff in our EDREs, it is usually through virtual means only. Since a Forward Coordination Element and the EARF were physically present at the embassy during this exercise, it allowed for significantly more involvement between CTJF-HOA and a broader embassy audience.”
The exercise consisted of EARF and CJTF-HOA staff coordinating with the embassy’s Marine Security Guard (MSG) team to augment their security capabilities in case of a natural disaster, as well as testing their capabilities to provide timely humanitarian aid. After a successful integration of teams, the next phase of the EDRE involved a partial military assisted departure. The MSG teams found the EARF’s knowledge and expertise helpful in training for potential crises.
“The EARF provided augmented security to the embassy during a natural disaster scenario in which our infrastructure was degraded and our local security staff, including guards, were unable to come to work,” said Supervisory Special Agent Michael Mancini, Diplomatic Security Service Regional Security Officer. “This demonstrated the practical challenges of an emergency situation and allowed crucial first-hand experience for all parties involved.”
Thanks to the in-depth, training exercise, both teams experienced a more accurate representation of the challenges that arise in a crisis or disaster. This practical, hands-on experience allowed the EARF to identify and fix weaknesses as well as expand on and improve processes.
“One of the biggest realizations we had during the exercise was identifying the need to refine how the EARF communicates with other entities,” said Spradlin. “This exercise provided an invaluable opportunity for us to improve the way we are able to communicate by conducting multiple rehearsals and identifying best practices moving forward.”
For embassy staff, the EDRE provided vital hands-on experience in what it would be like to integrate with CJTF-HOA forces in emergencies. Should such an emergency ever occur, embassy security will be better able to anticipate what they need, what the EARF might need from them and how to incorporate the unique capabilities brought by the EARF.
“The MSGs and I absolutely enjoyed being a part of the first EDRE in Tanzania. Seeing joint forces and different agencies working together towards a common goal, working through unique problems, and creating solutions in real-time, was a reward in itself,” said Staff Sgt. Atewenniio Deer, MSG Detachment Commander. “The MSGs gained valuable experience they will never forget or experience anywhere else in Africa, and we will always be grateful for this opportunity.”
Ultimately, this EDRE prepared CJTF-HOA and U.S. Dept. of State embassies for any crisis that could occur, allowing them to carry on essential duties or even safely evacuate. By integrating efforts and cooperating, CJTF-HOA and embassies can expand interoperability and bolster their combined readiness. Not only does the EDRE build up CJTF-HOA’s readiness, but it also develops trust between CJTF-HOA and the people they are dedicated to protecting.
“I feel like CJTF-HOA went from being an unknown, distant command to a trusted partner. We have a far better understanding of each other's capabilities and how to work together,” said Mancini.