Tag Archives: logistics

U.S. Army NCOs lead training of Djibouti’s first logistics unit

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

As the soldiers of Djibouti joined the African Union Mission to Somalia to help fight the terrorist group Al-Shabaab, they had a major weakness: The Djiboutian army had no logistics unit.

That made resupplying their soldiers in Somalia difficult and sometimes impossible. Djiboutian army officers requested U.S. Army help, and a Regionally Aligned Forces group of U.S. Army Soldiers recently spent five months in Djibouti training the country’s first army logistics unit.

Because there had not been any logistics soldiers in the Djiboutian army, training began almost from scratch, said Staff Sgt. Richard Keaton, senior foreign weapons instructor for the United States Army Africa RAF training team.

“We’ve been doing supply operations, convoy operations, basic rifle marksmanship, advanced rifle marksmanship, various tasks that you’d have your everyday soldier do,” Keaton said. “Because it’s a new company, they haven’t had any basic training or basic military drills, so that’s what we’ve been enforcing.

Staff Sgt. Richard Keaton, senior foreign weapons instructor for the U.S. Army Africa RAF training team, instructs a member of the Djiboutian army on properly mounting a weapon. (Photos by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Staff Sgt. Richard Keaton, senior foreign weapons instructor for the U.S. Army Africa RAF training team, instructs a member of the Djiboutian army on properly mounting a weapon. (Photos by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“The main goal is to support the African Union Mission to Somalia,” he said. “By helping train up the Djiboutians, it supports the mission in Somalia. It gives them the tools necessary to survive out there. The entire time they’ve been going down to Somalia, their logistics packages have come through air drops and air resupplies. What they are trying to do now is ground resupplies. So, that’s the importance of standing up this logistics company. We’re giving them the ability to move supplies from Djibouti to Somalia by ground and get them there securely and safely.”

The RAF brought together Soldiers from three different divisions: the 10th Mountain Division of Fort Drum, New York; the 1st Armored Division of Fort Bliss, Texas; and the 3rd Infantry Division of Fort Stewart, Georgia.

Sgt. 1st Class Charles Frith, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the RAF, said the group came together after the 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade was tasked with the mission.

As Staff Sgt. Richard Keaton and other U.S. Army Soldiers look on, members of the Djiboutian army go through an exercise on dealing with roadblocks.
As Staff Sgt. Richard Keaton and other U.S. Army Soldiers look on, members of the Djiboutian army go through an exercise on dealing with roadblocks.

“They wanted extra stuff that we just didn’t have on hand,” Frith said. “For instance, they wanted some foreign weapons training, and in sustainment we don’t train with foreign weapons. So they went out to other divisions and tasked some of those folks to come in and provide those things for us.”

Challenges

At the beginning, the limited knowledge of the Djiboutians meant the U.S. Army NCOs had to stop and make sure the Djiboutian soldiers could do things that might usually be taken for granted. For instance, before they could teach the Djiboutians how to drive heavy vehicles, they first had to make sure they knew how to drive, Frith said.

“When we get a new Soldier into a U.S. Army unit, I know that Soldier knows how to do some basic things, just from life alone, and then also from what they’ve been taught since they’ve been in the military,” Frith said. “Here, that has not been the case. Things that I would normally overlook, I’ve had to learn to pay more attention to those details and talk to those guys more up front and say, ‘Where, really, are you with your training? Here’s where we thought you were going to be, but can you drive a vehicle? Do you have the strength to pull back a 50-cal charge handle? Is your arm big enough for a tourniquet to go around?’ Some of their arms were too small for a tourniquet to go around. So we had to teach them ways around that.”

The notorious heat in the Horn of Africa was another challenge the NCOs had to overcome to train the Djiboutian logistics unit. Though the Soldiers lived at Camp Lemonnier, a U.S. Africa Command base in Djibouti, they had little other affiliation with the camp. Their work took place at Djiboutian army facilities, and they worked a different schedule than most at Camp Lemonnier.

“We’re the only people in country who work a Djiboutian schedule, which is Sunday through Thursday,” Keaton said. “It will get to about 115 (degrees Fahrenheit) with the heat index, so they shut down everything about 1100, then come back into work about 1600 or 1700 and work until 2000. That’s just to avoid the extreme heat.”

Graphic by Spc. James Seals
Graphic by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal

With a Djiboutian population that speaks a variety of languages, including Somali, Afar, Arabic and French, communication could sometimes take time, said Sgt. Scott Winkler, the RAF’s medical NCO in charge.

“The biggest problem is the language barrier,” Winkler said. “For the most part, the officers mainly speak French, though a lot of the officers and some of the NCOs speak some English. The enlisted, we had some English, French, Somali and Afar. So when we were teaching, our translators would have to translate it three times so that everybody could get the information.”

NCO roles

As is often the case when the U.S. Army is working with a foreign army, the role of the NCO was a frequent discussion point between the two sides, Frith said.

“Their army is a new army, and their NCO corps is not very well established,” Frith said. “The roles of what their NCO does in their army is new to them. They are a very officer-heavy military. For years, they focused all their training on the officer side of the house. Now, working with the U.S. military, they see that there is a lot of benefit from bringing the NCOs into it. They have to get them more engaged.”

“They do start to notice that the U.S. NCOs lead the training,” Winkler said. “So, recently we’ve been seeing the NCOs on their side start to pick up and train their soldiers, which is really good to see.”

During a culminating event after five months of training, Djiboutian army soldiers approach a roadblock.
During a culminating event after five months of training, Djiboutian army soldiers approach a roadblock.

The value of NCOs is clear in the U.S. Army, especially during training like this, said Capt. Daniel Samuelson, the officer in charge of the RAF training group.

“As someone who has never come out and trained a partner nation before, these NCOs bring a lot of experience to the table, and they’ve been consummate professionals the entire time,” Samuelson said. “What NCOs bring to the mission is they are the mission. They’re the executors; they make it happen. On the officer side, we plan, we give guidance. But ultimately, when it comes down to it, they are the ones making it happen. So without them, there wouldn’t be any mission here.”

Ready to learn

Members of the RAF training team all highlighted one positive of training the Djiboutian forces: their desire and willingness to learn.

“I did a little bit of this type of training in Afghanistan, and it wasn’t as successful,” Winkler said. “The Afghans would just kind of come in and leave. These guys really enjoy getting the training, which is a nice change. They come in, and they are ready to learn. When you teach to them, they give it their all. They pick up on the information really quickly.”

Keaton’s focus was on teaching the Djiboutian soldiers about weapons, and their desire to learn made the work easier, he said. Keaton also had previous experience training Afghan forces and agreed that the positive attitude of the Djiboutian soldiers made a large difference in what they learned.

“It’s extremely rewarding, training weapons,” Keaton said. “A lot of these guys had never touched an AK-47 before. So having a guy actually remember what we taught him and be excited about it, be excited about how he shot that 50-cal, how he shot that AK-47: it’s rewarding to see that excitement in their eyes.”

During a culminating event after five months of training, Djiboutian army soldiers show what they've learned about logistics.
During a culminating event after five months of training, Djiboutian army soldiers show what they’ve learned about logistics.

After five months of training, the U.S. Soldiers were eager to watch the Djiboutian soldiers put their newfound knowledge on display in a culminating event that involved the Djiboutian forces executing a convoy lane while under fire. Their actions during the event were impressive, Frith said.

“Comparing from the day we got here until now, outstanding,” he said. “When we first got here, if we had told them they were going to go to a convoy lane and execute, most of them would have jumped in the vehicles, drove right out and drove right through the point. Whatever vehicle got hit and died, the rest of the guys may have stopped, or they may have just left that vehicle and kept going. Today, coming out here, they communicated. Their NCOs came up and did battle drills with them before they hopped in their vehicles. They verified that their equipment was going to be mounted and was working properly. They had the right people. They verified communications. They got a convoy manifest in order. And then they started patrol. The details of pulling that together, when we got here, they couldn’t do. Some of the guys couldn’t even drive a vehicle.”

The Djiboutian unit then demonstrated their knowledge and skills in dealing with a roadblock, an improvised explosive device and a downed vehicle.

“Bringing all that together … it’s only a few minutes of execution, but they are demonstrating months of training. It was outstanding,” Frith said.

Samuelson said the culminating event made it clear that the new Djiboutian army logistics unit was prepared for its mission.

“There is significant progress,” Samuelson said. “They’re not U.S. Soldiers, but they are a competent force. They’ve grown from nothing into something they can use in Somalia.”

After the culminating event, Wosam Abdul Hassen, a Djiboutian soldier who was part of the training, expressed his appreciation for the U.S. Army Soldiers who taught him so much.

“We learned a lot of things,” Hassen said. “Now we can do a lot of things that we didn’t know how to do before. The training was good. I say to them, ‘Thank you.’”

In addition to helping fill a gap in the Djiboutian army, all the NCOs agreed that the training mission had also made them better noncommissioned officers. Keaton said working with the Djiboutian soldiers, building them up slowly despite language barriers and an early lack of knowledge, taught him patience.

“It’s taught me that working with different types of people, you have to train them differently,” Keaton said. “We already have that in the States; you can’t train every Soldier the same way. But this has broadened my perspective on how to train Soldiers and how to actually make an impact so that Soldiers can learn. Sometimes you have to break it down to the lowest level in order to get somebody to understand it.”

“It has helped everybody out on both ends,” Winkler said. “They have received a lot from us, but at the same time, we’ve learned a lot from them. We’ve learned how to adapt teaching styles to get the point across in an efficient way. I think it’s grown all of us as leaders and NCOs.”

By Example: Bradley maintenance NCO goes the extra mile

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

It’s not often that a staff sergeant serves as the logistics lead during a deployment, but that is exactly what Staff Sgt. Christopher Nemier, a 1st Cavalry Division Soldier, did in Lithuania during Operation Atlantic Resolve.

Staff Sgt. Christopher Nemier, a Bradley fighting vehicle maintenance supervisor for B Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, discusses the role of the mechanic in the overall supply system and how maintenance and equipment is tracked during an Oct. 10 visit with senior Lithuanian logisticians in Rukla, Lithuania. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Keith Anderson / U.S. Army News Service)
Staff Sgt. Christopher Nemier, a Bradley fighting vehicle maintenance supervisor for B Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, discusses the role of the mechanic in the overall supply system and how maintenance and equipment is tracked during an Oct. 10 visit with senior Lithuanian logisticians in Rukla, Lithuania. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Keith Anderson / U.S. Army News Service)

While on deployment in Rukla, Lithuania, Nemier, a Bradley fighting vehicle maintenance supervisor attached to B Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, created the standard operating procedures for logistics operations within the country and helped the Lithuanian military develop a maintenance program, all while training and mentoring his Soldiers in the motor pool.

“He had to run and plan all of the logistics for everything we did in that country as far as maintaining supplies for the training missions – ammunition and fuel, allocating maintenance support and getting parts. He would take care of all of that later in the day, and during the workday he would be with all the rest of us in the motor pool,” said Sgt. Jordan Gassie, who was Nemier’s shop foreman in Lithuania. “He had three Soldiers, some brand new to the Army, and he made time to train them, as well as the vehicle operators, up to his own high standards.”

Upon his return from deployment in December 2014, Nemier was recognized by Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, vice chief of staff of the Army, for the work he did with the Lithuanians and for excelling in mission command.

“I told Gen. Allyn that the success of any leader is because of the Soldiers he commands,” Nemier said. “Was I successful? Yes. Did I go above and beyond the aspects of my duty position? Yes. Because my other NCOs allotted me that time. They went above and beyond as well. I even had PFCs stepping up, because they saw what I was doing and knew why I was doing it.”

New place, new SOPs

Atlantic Resolve, led by U.S Army Europe, is a combined arms exercise taking place throughout Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to enhance multinational interoperability, strengthen relationships among allied militaries, contribute to regional stability and demonstrate the United States’ commitment to NATO.

Staff Sgt. Christopher Nemier, of J Forward Support Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, pictured at left, joins his team as they repair a fuel leak on a Bradley fighting vehicle. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
Staff Sgt. Christopher Nemier, of J Forward Support Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, pictured at left, joins his team as they repair a fuel leak on a Bradley fighting vehicle. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

Nemier’s unit was the first to bring Bradleys into Lithuania, and as such, faced numerous challenges. One of those challenges was moving vehicles and equipment on Baltic trains, which are a different size than what the Soldiers are used to. Nemier worked with Lithuanian logistics officers and the Corps of Engineers from USAREUR to determine the best method for loading and unloading the vehicles, and the maintenance and logistics SOPs he put in place have paved the way for continued mission success. The division has adapted them for American Soldiers to use in Latvia, Estonia and Poland. Because Atlantic Resolve is an ongoing operation, units are still utilizing those SOPs – adding to them and adapting them as needed – long after Nemier’s departure.

“Normally I would place an officer as the leader of a forward logistics element, but with Nemier’s experience and his wealth of knowledge, he was the easy choice to make,” said Cpt. Jeremy Hunter, commander of J Forward Support Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, which is Nemier’s unit at Fort Hood. “Staff Sgt. Nemier had a lot more experience than the lieutenants I considered, and he had proved that he could not only lead the Soldiers in there but think critically and creatively to solve any of the issues that would come up in a theater that really hasn’t been developed. Lithuania has a smaller army, and I knew he would work closely with his Lithuanian counterparts to really accomplish the goal – to ensure them that the United States is with them, but also to deter the Russian aggression at that point. I had full confidence that he could take a team that we created, lead them and really take that mission and accomplish it without me having to give him direct guidance every day.”

Hunter said he values NCOs, such as Nemier, who show initiative.

“A good NCO will take the mission provided, find the shortfalls within that mission and point them out,” Hunter said. “What makes Nemier stand above the rest is that not only does he point out those shortfalls, but he comes up with solutions and presents them as well to other leaders.”

Working with Lithuanians

The Lithuanian military is very new, Nemier explained. The country didn’t join the European Union until 2004. Its soldiers are in a vulnerable situation and hungry for information.

“Even if [Staff Sgt. Christopher Nemier] is turning a wrench on something himself, he is explaining to everyone the exact purpose of what he is doing, the reason why he is doing it, the system it is part of, how it works, why you do it in a particular order. … He makes everything into a lesson to help the Soldiers learn to make informed decisions on their own,” said Sgt. Jordan Gassie, who served with Nemier in Lithuania. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
“Even if [Staff Sgt. Christopher Nemier] is turning a wrench on something himself, he is explaining to everyone the exact purpose of what he is doing, the reason why he is doing it, the system it is part of, how it works, why you do it in a particular order. … He makes everything into a lesson to help the Soldiers learn to make informed decisions on their own,” said Sgt. Jordan Gassie, who served with Nemier in Lithuania. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
Some of the daily procedures and common precautions performed by U.S. Soldiers are not even considered in the Baltic countries, he said. For example, the Lithuanians were not prepared to deal with the environmental impact of moving equipment and using it in the field. If a humvee started leaking oil, for example, they would just let it leak. But when Nemier’s unit began showing them the proper way to dispose of the waste, they were eager to learn. Nemier and his team dug up the contaminated soil and showed the Lithuanian soldiers how to build drip pans from boxes and plastic liners. Nemier guided them in creating a hazardous material SOP based on European Union and NATO standards, and that same month, the country passed an inspection for the first time since joining the EU.

Nemier met with members of the Lithuanian Department of Defense, sharing what he could to strengthen the army.

“We were humble when we went in, and they responded very well, because they could see we wanted to set them up for success,” Nemier said. “They still hit me up on email with mechanical questions. It’s a friendship. It really is.”

Nemier also struck up a friendship with the Lithuanian motor sergeant who shared the motor pool with his team. Through broken English and Google Translate, they worked well together and still keep in touch.

The language barrier made everything more difficult, Nemier said, but it taught them patience.

“It forced us to be patient,” he said. “I would teach something on a Bradley, and I would have to go over it 10 times. I had to adjust my leadership style and, as an NCO, you have to be flexible like that. One leadership style is not going to work for ‘Joe A’ and ‘Joe B.’ We struggled for the first couple of weeks, but we figured it out. I think it really made us better leaders.”

Working with Soldiers

Nemier said he always knew patience was an important trait in a good NCO, but working with foreign soldiers really drove the point home. Now, he strives to have even more patience with his Soldiers at Fort Hood.

Private First Class Derrik Steinebach, a member of Nemier's crew within J Forward Support Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, repairs a fuel leak on a Bradley fighting vehicle. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
Private First Class Derrik Steinebach, a member of Nemier’s crew within J Forward Support Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, repairs a fuel leak on a Bradley fighting vehicle. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

“Patience is so important,” Nemier said. “NCOs need to figure out what the problem is before jumping to conclusions or freaking out. Find out what the problem is and try to come up with solutions. … I don’t scream and yell. I’ll do the 4857 – the counseling form and the paperwork – that is without a doubt, and they will be held accountable for their actions. But, especially a young Soldier who has never experienced anything this major before, I want to show him or her that though they are just a small pebble in a pond, they can create a ripple and affect the entire shoreline. You lose a Brad, you lose a wingman. You lose a flanking position. You lose an infantry squad. So what they do here in the motor pool is important. I want to help young Soldiers see that they can affect the entire pond.”

Helping Soldiers understand the importance of their work and how they fit into the big picture is a huge motivator, Nemier said.

“If I tell Joe to go over there and fix that Bradley, he is going to go over there and fix that Bradley,” he said. “But he doesn’t know why. … Because it’s broken? But, if I say, ‘Hey, you need to go over and fix that Bradley because we are getting ready to go shoot gunnery, and we want the Bradleys to be ready to go for the infantry guys so they don’t get hurt while they are rolling out to the ranges,’ I’ve just motivated that Soldier. He now knows what his work is affecting in the near future.”

Gassie said he appreciated Nemier’s honesty and the time he took to explain each task to his Soldiers.

“Across the board, he is fair and straightforward, whether you are a subordinate, a peer or a superior. He will give you a straight answer,” Gassie said. “And when he describes a maintenance task or a Soldier skill, it’s never ‘Do this because I say so.’ Even if he is turning a wrench on something himself, he is explaining to everyone the exact purpose of what he is doing, the reason why he is doing it, the system it is part of, how it works, why you do it in a particular order. … He makes everything into a lesson to help the Soldiers learn to make informed decisions on their own.”

Hunter said a good NCO is one who, like Nemier – now attending the Senior Leader course at Fort Lee, Virginia – always strives to better himself and remains dedicated to every aspect of his Soldiers’ development.

“Staff Sgt. Nemier has continually pushed himself to learn more and more within his MOS and has also taken time to teach his Soldiers – some of them brand new out of basic training and Advanced Individual Training – so they can also become experts in their field. Above that, he is continually taking the time to develop them into complete Soldiers – really showing them how to succeed, not only in the Army, but in life as well.”