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Face of Defense: Soldier Finds Opportunities in Senegal

By Army Staff Sgt. Candace Mundt 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

DAKAR, Senegal, Aug. 2, 2016 — Ask any Army infantryman who joined after Sept. 11, 2001, why they serve, and most will tell you they joined to fight for their country. Most expect to come out of training and be shipped straight to war, but for one infantryman of the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, his first Army trip overseas took him to train alongside Senegalese Armed Forces in West Africa.

“I really wanted to go overseas and fight in Afghanistan, but I haven't gotten the chance to do that,” said Army Spc. Steven Taylor, a team leader with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment of 2nd IBCT.

Even though Taylor, a southern California native with two-and-a-half-years in service thought his first deployment would be to a war zone, he said he is excited to be part of Africa Readiness Training 16 in Thies, Senegal.

“I think it's good to go to another country and teach them our tactics,” Taylor said. “It means a lot to me to come over here and play a role in helping their army.”

Increasing Readiness

ART 16 is a U.S. Army Africa exercise designed to increase U.S. and Senegalese readiness and partnership through combined infantry training and live-fire events from July 7-27. Soldiers with 2nd IBCT, based at Fort Stewart, Georgia, are part of the regionally aligned brigade of U.S. Africa Command and support USARAF exercises across the continent throughout the fiscal year as their regionally allocated force.

During ART 16, Taylor's unit will validate squad and platoon-level tactics, techniques and procedures which culminate at the end of the three-week exercise with a company-level combined arms live-fire exercise integrated with their Senegalese partners.

Taylor said his unit has shared some of their knowledge and infantry tactics with Senegalese soldiers, such as how to clear a room. “They pick up things very fast,” he said.

He noted similarities between their militaries and service members.

“It's mind-opening to see they train just as hard as we train,” Taylor said. “It seems like we have a lot in common. Our tactics are very similar. Even little things like going to the gym; like they all love working out, we all love working out.”

“We're learning a lot about their culture and becoming friends with them,” he said.

Taylor said he was not sure what he would see in Senegal.

“I think this experience made me a better person by seeing a different culture,” Taylor said. “When I pictured Senegal, I figured it would be pretty much desert. I didn't think there would be a city like Thies.”

One of the noncommissioned officers of 1-30th Inf. who has observed U.S. and Senegalese troops during ART16 knows first-hand how working with foreign forces can benefit a U.S. soldier.

Army Staff Sgt. Sean Sandlin, the training operations NCO for the mission, has worked with armed forces of 36 different countries as an infantryman during deployments, training missions and permanent changes of station. For ART16, Sandlin said his responsibilities include making sure all training is prepared, approved and coordinated between Senegalese and U.S. exercise participants.

“They get to help train a foreign military that is extremely proud and motivated, very willing to learn,” Sandlin said. “So, it forces our soldiers to want to step up and keep doing better.”

Different Atmosphere

While Fort Stewart offers various training areas for their warfighters to remain ready and combat effective, Sandlin observed how the rocky, hilly, semi-arid landscape with scattered thorn bushes and baobab trees near Thies provided a different atmosphere and new challenges for the soldiers and leaders of Bravo Company.

“Everyone can run every single day down the lanes at Fort Stewart and nothing changes,” Sandlin said.

 Sandlin said he tells his soldiers to train everyday like they are in combat and this mission will better prepare troops of 1-30th should they deploy.

“Every single environment you train in helps prepare you for the next,” Sandlin said. “Every single thing they learn here will give them something to add to their tool bag for whenever they go down range.”

He added, “So, no matter where they're training or what they're doing, whether it's combat or not, the knowledge they gain here is invaluable, from how their equipment works to how much water they need to drink. Facilitating working through more austere conditions is a good test run for when they really gotta go.”

Relationships built during each live-fire, friendly wrestling match or just an evening around the chow hall table during ART16 between 1-30th Inf. and Senegalese will likely impact each soldier, but could also have a lasting effect on the overall partnership between their nations for the future.

“Working with these foreign militaries consistently breeds trust and confidence, and in the end that's going to breed success,” Sandlin said.