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By 2ND LT. JOSHUA LARSON
24th Marine Expeditionary Unit
DJIBOUTI – Marines and Sailors with India Battery, the artillery attachment for Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, conducted bilateral training with French Marines in Djibouti Aug. 25-27 to integrate and strengthen an allied-nation partnership.
The India Battery Marines used the opportunity to discuss tactics and procedures for the newest addition to the Marine Corps artillery arsenal, the M-327 120 mm Expeditionary Fire Support System, or EFSS, a mortar system with French origins.
Despite the many similarities between the U.S. and French systems, there were comparable differences when it came to certain tactics and overall demeanor between the two services, said Staff Sgt. Adrian J. Rondini, 28, platoon sergeant and Cleveland, Ohio, native.
One of the tactics the French employed in Dibouti was what artillerymen call “direct lay,” explained 1st Lt. Alexander Kowaleuski, India Battery’s Guns Platoon commander. It’s a method in which the unit observes, fires and adjusts each round from the mortar position, instead of having forward observers ahead of the gunline as the “eyes” of the weapons.
“It’s a tactic that we can employ also, and we actually do it exactly the same way,” said Kowaleuski.
Another difference between the two was simply the demeanor of the French Marines as they ran their gunline.
The intensity and fired-up attitudes U.S. Marines are known for was contrasted by the calmer, even quieter French Marines.
The French Marines’ lifestyle is different; everything from the food they eat to their gun-line procedures, said Sgt. Ralph T. Pfeil, 27, an artillery section chief for India Battery.
“They did everything they were supposed to do in a timely manner… it was professional and relaxed,” said Pfeil, 27, from Mount Pleasant, N.C.
Discussing different tactics for employing mortars comprised the majority of the training exercise, but it was the little things that helped forge friendships as they marveled at each other’s everyday items.
“It was nice seeing them interested in something so small, like when they were taking pictures inside the Humvee. To us, it’s just a Humvee, we see it every day. But to them it was something new and different,” said Rondini.
The daily rations, known as Meals-Ready-To-Eat, quickly became a staple of conversation as everybody gathered together to share and trade goods gathered from the meals.
“We were all like little kids, everyone wanted to see what each other had in their MREs,” said Pfeil.
These small moments helped both sides connect quickly and easily.
“Something so small to us was amazing to them,” said Rondini. “It definitely helped foreign relations working with the French military. If we work together again, we’ll know how to work together.”
The training enabled the Marines to learn quite a lot during their short time spent ashore with their French counterparts. Swapping MREs and gun stories laid a foundation for friendship and future training opportunities.
A contingent of the 24th MEU has been in Djibouti for over a month, taking advantage of unilateral, bilateral and joint training opportunities. So far, 24th MEU Marines have teamed with French light armored reconnaissance Marines, conducted desert survival courses with the French, and have teamed with U.S. Air Force personnel to conduct various training events.
The 24th MEU is deployed with the Iwo Jima ARG as a theater reserve force for U.S. Central Command and is providing support for maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet area of responsibility. They are currently in the six month of a regularly scheduled deployment.