US Marines in Benin for joint exercise


More than 400 US and Benin soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are currently taking part in Exercise Shared Accord 2009 at Bembereke in the Francophone West African state.

Reserve units from throughout the US Marine Corps, along with medical contingents from the Navy, Air Force and Army National Guard, gathered at Center of Military Information in Bembereke last week for the 15-day exercise.
“This exercise will allow us to test our value and show the African Union and ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) authorities that our Stand-by Force is ready, well trained and credible to be deployed anywhere in Africa or in any kind of peacekeeping situation,” said Colonel Dominique Ahoundjinou, Beninese Army Chief of Staff.

US Marine Forces Africa says Shared Accord is a scheduled, bilateral field training exercise aimed at conducting small unit infantry and staff training with the Beninese military.

“Our goal is to learn about the culture, their training practices and how we’re the same in many ways,” said US Marine Lieutenant Colonel Michael Miller, Joint Task Force Commander.

“We will also improve our own skills by training with them in a different environment. We hope to foster a spirit of cooperation and teamwork with Benin [Armed Forces].”

The exercise, said Miller, will include working with the Benin military, training in peacekeeping operations, and joining with sister services to conduct humanitarian aid in the form of local medical, dental and veterinary clinics. Navy Seabees will also build a local school.

Shared Accord comes just after Exercise African Lion, a similar endeavour in Morocco in May.  

There marines from 4th Marine Division in concert with their Royal Moroccan Army counterparts put on a lively live-fire display for dignitaries at the end of a three-week land exercise on May 28.

This year’s ground combat portion of African Lion featured infantry Marines from K Company and L Company, Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment; a Light Armoured Reconnaissance platoon from C Company, 4th LAR Battalion; and a tank platoon from C Company, 4th Tank Battalion.

Throughout the 19-day long training exercise, the marines worked closely with counterparts from the Royal Moroccan Army in a variety of bi-lateral training evolutions including small-arms and crew-served weapons training, live fire and manoeuvre ranges, bi-lateral weapons systems familiarization, and the final training exercise.
“We have shot just about every infantry weapons system that is organic to the weapons company,” said Major Andrew W. Ralston, operations officer for Task Force African Lion.

In addition to the infantry training, Ralston said the bi-lateral nature of the training served as a benefit to the marines and gave them a unique perspective on different infantry tactics, techniques and procedures.
“This has been a solid learning experience for these marines,” Ralston said.
“It’s really good training for the future,” said Sergeant Scott van Keuren, platoon sergeant for 2nd Platoon, Weapons Co., 3/23. “Our Marines get the chance to not only operate and train in an austere environment, but they benefit from experience of working with a friendly foreign force.”

Van Keuren said the Marines and Moroccans continually sought chances to share perspectives on the employment of their prospective weapons systems and both forces got the chance to get hands-on familiarisation training with each other’s gear.
“The Marines have had the chance to train with the Moroccans in a way which has exposed them to different approaches and tactics, as well as increasing their knowledge of different weapons systems,” said Major Gordon Hilbun, Weapons Co., 3/23 commanding officer.

Throughout the six-week exercise, which included an air combat phase prior to the land exercise, marines, sailors and Army National Guard soldiers from a variety of units have worked and trained with the Moroccans to cover every aspect of the Marine Air Ground Task Force, as well as providing humanitarian and civic assistance.

Like Shared Accord, African lion is an annually scheduled combined US-Moroccan exercise is designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of each nation’s tactics, techniques and procedures.