US airmen, sailors and soldiers, with Exercise African Lion 2011, successfully finished five days of humanitarian and civic assistance activities in five different locations in Morocco on May 27.
Joint medical teams focused on treating patients whilst being guarded by Marines with the 14th Marine Regiment. The Marines worked side by side with the Moroccan security forces to make certain medical attention could be delivered to Moroccan civilians in a safe and protected environment.
“We have to keep our eyes open for anything that looks out of the ordinary,” said Gunnery Sergeant Logan Conway, an anti-terrorism force protection chief with 14th Marines. “As a Marine who has deployed, I’ve gained an instinct for when people are up to no good. The people here are peaceful, but as the day goes on and heat rises we have to stay vigilant. When you have large crowds like we do here, a small incident only needs a few moments to escalate.”
Conway also supported security for humanitarian operations in Basra, Iraq. He said the preparation that went into each HCA site included route reconnaissance, site reconnaissance, an assessment of the local security situation, a development of contingency plans and a review of all potential risks.
“Whenever there are Marines around, I know I’ll be safe,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Sy Johnmario, dental assistant with 4th Dental Battalion. “It’s great being out here in a joint environment. We get to immerse ourselves in Moroccan culture while helping the Moroccan people. Because of the security we are provided, we are able to go out to all the way out to these different sites and get the Moroccan villagers easier access to medical care.”
Johnmario said he trusted that the Marines would ensure his safety because he had deployed to Iraq with Marine Air Group 46 and knows how serious Marines are about security. However, the countryside of Morocco offers many unique challenges for the Marines. One of the challenges is the language barrier, which exists even for some of the Moroccans who might not understand all the different dialects of Arabic spoken by Berber tribal villagers.
“I facilitate communication between the U.S. and Moroccan militaries,” said Army Staff Sergeant Matt Madsen, an interpreter with the 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion. “We have been really busy and that means we are able to get more patients seen. The dialect of Berber spoken here is Tamazight, and it makes things a little difficult, but we are all working together with the Moroccans and there are no communication issues that we have not been able to handle.”
Madsen, who deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, has worked with Marines before in a deployed environment. He said the Marines in charge of security at the HCA sites have a level of professionalism on the job that exceeds expectations, and that’s the level he has come to expect from Marines.
“It’s very important that they are here keeping an eye out for us, so we can focus on our work,” said Air Force Major Miguel A Villalobos, a physician with 151st Medical Group, Utah Air National Guard. “This is my first time deploying, but I love working in the field in this environment. I only wish I could help more people and speak more Berber.”
The US medical teams partnered their Moroccan counterparts and both said they were able to learn from one another during the five days of working HCA sites. The Moroccan villages presented the bilateral medical teams with a wide variety of issues.
“We had a lot of cases of arthritis, said Villalobos. One of the older villagers’ ears were totally plugged up with wax and debris and he had lost the ability to hear. We were able to quickly clean his ears, and he was smiling brightly once he could hear again. There was also a man who had two of his fingers partially bitten off by a donkey. We removed his old dirty bandages, cleaned his wounds and applied antibiotics.”
Gunnery Sergeant Greg Belgrave, an anti-terrorism force protection chief with 14th Marines, said the HCA activities were important, because they enabled the Moroccan people to see the humanitarian side of the US military working alongside their Moroccan medical teams. The U.S.-Moroccan relationship dates back to the earliest days of U.S. history, and Belgrave stated that Morocco formally recognized the colonies as a unified sovereign nation on December 20, 1777.
“African Lion demonstrates how our relationship with the Morocco continues to grow,” said Belgrave. “This exercise highlights how friendly and accepting the Moroccans are towards Americans. Next to the HCA site, the Moroccans set up a tent where they served us traditional Moroccan mint tea and freshly baked bread. We really get a chance to embrace their culture, and I’ll go home with stories I’ll be able to tell my grandkids.”
Belgrave stressed that the Moroccan security forces have done an outstanding job helping to ensure safety at the different HCA sites. He said the Marines simply applied their basic operational security practices and aided the Moroccan police in any way they can.
“We’ve been helping to make sure everything goes safely and smoothly here”, said Belgrave. “We are just utilizing what the Marine Corps teaches us to do on a day to day basis; to stay vigilant. It has been an awesome experience to be a part of this exercise and to support our medical staff as they helped so many people.”
Exercise African Lion 2011 is an annually scheduled, joint, combined U.S.-Moroccan exercise involving the US Army, Navy and Marines, and the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces that consists of peacekeeping operations, humanitarian civic assistance operations and construction projects.
It is the largest exercise within the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility, and is designed to promote interoperability and mutual understanding of each nation’s military tactics, techniques and procedures. All US forces will return to their home bases in the United States and Europe at the conclusion of the exercise. 2 000 U.S. service members and approximately 900 members of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces participated in the exercise.