CONAKRY, Guinea – The
beginning of 2014 was full of experiences for a group of artillerymen with the
1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st
Infantry Division, as they took part in a bilateral training event as part of
the brigade’s regional alignment mission in Africa.
More than 30 Soldiers from
the unit were tasked with training and certifying a newly formed Guinean Army battalion
made up of handpicked Soldiers and officers from across the West African
The Guinean battalion,
called the Gan-Gan Battalion, is training to conduct peacekeeping operations in
Mali for its nation’s first United Nations mission in more than a decade.
“Our teams have been able
to make this training so much better than we had anticipated thanks to how
receptive and enthusiastic the Guinean Soldiers have been,” said Capt. Ritchie Rhodes,
commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Bn., 7th FA Regt.
“First Lightning” Battalion
trainers and mentors have worked six days a week for eight weeks to prepare
each of their assigned Guinean companies for the challenges they will face
while conducting operations in Mali. Training included instruction on checkpoints,
cordon-and-search operations, Combat Life Saver, or CLS, skills and weapons
familiarization ranges. Additionally, classes were given on peacekeeping and
The training revolved around
using a mentor system, rather than pure instruction. Mentors were embedded with
their respective companies and taught every class to the same group of Guinean
Soldiers. Soldiers from both nations also conducted physical training and played
sports together, improving their camaraderie during the eight weeks.
The mentorship model
developed a strong bond of respect and partnership between the Guinean
battalion and the First Lightning trainers, said 1st Lt. Josh Wohlers, platoon
leader, Battery A, 1st Bn., 7th FA Regt.
“It has been an outstanding
few weeks and a privilege to serve with the Guineans,” Wohlers said. “They are
extremely motivated and have done a fantastic job during recent training
Training is approached as a
discussion between mentors and trainees, rather than simple memorization.
“First, we asked Nimba Company
– one of the Guinean units – to show us how they would conduct a checkpoint on a
road,” said 1st Lt. John Fridlington, assistant operations officer, 1st Bn.,
7th FA Regt. “After they showed us how they do it, we discussed some things Americans
do differently when conducting a checkpoint, using examples from deployments
and the UN training manuals to get them thinking about different scenarios,
what works and what doesn’t work.”
Another area in which
strong bonds have developed between the two militaries is in the CLS course.
Here, the method of “train the trainer” was employed to first teach Guinean
medics new techniques for treating a casualty. In turn, the Guinean medics
trained each of their companies on the techniques, despite differences in
“The Guinean medics have embraced
the techniques we’re teaching,” said Spc. Brandon Lawhon, medic, HHB, 1st Bn.,
7th FA Regt. “It’s a challenge because of how different the resources are, but
the fundamentals remain the same, and they find a way.”
Rifle marksmanship and familiarization
have been particularly challenging hurdles to overcome, as most Guinean Soldiers
have never fired a weapon. Mentors were required to start from scratch,
teaching the Guineans how to safely and properly handle their AK-47 rifles,
light-machine guns and heavy-machine guns.
Preliminary marksmanship instruction
was trained and stressed to drill the Guinean Soldiers on effective firing
techniques and familiarize Soldiers with each weapon. Instilling the mindset of
handling a weapon safely was fundamental among mentors’ training goals, with
the intention that all of the training will filter throughout the Guinean military
“The lessons these Soldiers
and leaders learn here will hopefully stay with them, not only when they
deploy, but also when they are the ones teaching it to new Soldiers after their
deployment,” said Sgt. 1st Class Lee Frost, Division Headquarters and
Headquarters Battalion, 1st Inf. Div.
The training conducted by the
First Lightning Battalion has benefitted the trainers as much as the trainees.
“Not only are we doing training
to enhance the Guinean capabilities, we are also developing our American
leaders, getting them experience training a foreign army,” said Maj. Joey
Errington, operations officer, 1st Bn., 7th FA Regt., and the mission lead.
Some of the Guinean
Soldiers trained with another American unit more than 10 years ago.
“The training the Americans
are doing has eased many of my concerns for the upcoming deployment. I thank
them for the update to the training the American Rangers gave in 2002,” said
Guinean 2nd Lt. Ibrahima Soury Camara, platoon leader, 1st Mechanized Company,
The eight weeks of training
culminated with a 36-hour training lane, taking each company through offensive,
defensive and peacekeeping scenarios, as American mentors watched from a
distance, allowing Guinean leaders to take the initiative. The exercise was
their final training prior to UN validation and deployment.
“This lane was designed to test the platoon leaders,”
said Lt. Col. John Mountford, commander, 1st Bn., 7th FA Regt., “We’re no
longer training individual tasks, but observing the Gan-Gan leadership put all
the tasks together – command and control, fire and maneuver.”