JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — Reserve units with Special-Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Africa conducted pre-deployment training Wednesday with help from Somali-American citizens and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The Somali-Americans were assisting the reserve Marines — who are currently attached to the 22nd MEU — with their upcoming deployment to Uganda, Africa, by role playing as the African forces the Marines will be training.
“This is definitely essential (training),” said Sgt. Nathaniel Hutt, an active reserve Marine with 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, based in upstate New York. “There’s going to be some little cultural obstacles and language barriers that we’re going to have to overcome (in Africa).
“Having the actual role players here makes it easier because it shows us exactly what we need to do and what we might run into when we get down there.”
The Somali-Americans spent two days with the Marines, pretending to learn how to shoot rifles, fix cars and stop riots. It gave the Marines a chance to learn how to work with an interpreter to talk to the Somalians, because even though the role players speak English, they were told to speak in their native tongue just as they would do if they were home.
The Somali-Americans acting as role players are U.S. citizens who have immigrated to America or those who are trying to get their citizenship to stay in America. They were contracted through the Defense Training Systems to role play as the African service members the Marines will be training in Uganda.
Richard Arnold, a land controller with the Defense Training Systems, said his company typically provides Afghan-American citizens for the Marines to practice with before deploying to Afghanistan, but they’ve also used Iraqi-Americans and Filipino-Americans depending on where a specific unit will be deploying.
“This gives them the most realistic training they can get before entering the country,” Arnold, a retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeant, said. “The way we drive our role players for the scenario is to make it as realistic as possible. They’ll use traditional clothing — they stay in character — and stay in their traditional language, which forces the Marines to use the interpreters.”
“I wish I had this training when I was still in the Marine Corps,” Arnold added.
Arnold said the Somali-Americans were happy to do their part in training the U.S. service members, because it helps them feel like they’re giving back to a country they’ve grown to love.
“They’re some of the most patriotic people I’ve ever met,” Arnold said. “They just want to give back to the country, and this helps them feel like they’re doing their part.”
Most of the Marines being trained Wednesday were from the same battalion as Hutt, but some were pulled from different reserve units across the Eastern Seaboard to help facilitate the Special-Purpose MAGTF Africa. Their mission once they get to Africa will be to train the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces in peacekeeping missions and maintaining a stable state.
Capt. Campbell Kane, company commander for Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, said the biggest challenges for his Marines when they get to Uganda will undoubtedly be the cultural difference and the language barrier they’ll have to face.
“It’s really hard to realize sometimes as the average-day American how different your culture is going to be from another person’s culture, especially when you’re in their country and especially in a country like Africa, which is very different from most Western countries,” Kane said. “The Marine Corps itself is a culture within a culture ... So take that and get us trying to work with other foreign militaries and it’s a challenge for us.”
Kane said having the Somali-Americans role play for two days was an invaluable training experience for his Marines.
The reserve units have been training at Camp Lejeune and attached to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit for the past four months. Although the MEU will not be going to Africa with the MAGTF, MEU officials said it was beneficial for both parties if the MEU helped the reservists with their pre-deployment training.
“It gives us an opportunity to oversee a subordinate unit and facilitate their training, which is what we will be doing starting this summer when we composite as a full-size MEU and begin our own pre-deployment training in preparation for our deployment in early 2014,” said Capt. Stewart Coles, 22nd MEU spokesman.