Thursday, December 20, 2007

Gunston Hall, 22nd MEU Complete Exercise with Djibouti Navy

The amphibious dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) and embarked elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) (Special Operations Capable [SOC]) completed bilateral exercise Image Nautilus 2007 with the Djibouti Navy, Dec. 18.

The exercise provided an opportunity to enhance interoperability and tactical proficiency between Djiboutian and U.S. forces, and demonstrated U.S. commitment to security in the region.

"Exercise Image Nautilus 2007 was a significant and important training opportunity for U.S. and Djiboutian forces," said Capt. Frank L. Ponds, Commander, Kearsarge Strike Group. "Not only did our forces maintain operational readiness and improve command, control, communications and intelligence interoperability, we also strengthened our relationship and demonstrated our resolve to regional security."

During the exercise, joint training and proficiency demonstrations were held in weapons firing; visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) techniques; and small-boat handling. Marines and Djiboutians trained side-by-side, conducting vehicle mounted patrols, foot patrols, fin-swim training, and desert familiarization training.

"The training between the Marines and Djiboutians is important, because it not only sharpens our military skills, it fosters friendships and provides a greater understanding of how we can better operate together," said Capt. Dennis O'Donnell, company commander for Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 22nd MEU (SOC). "The Marines were glad to have this unique opportunity to train with a professional military like the Djiboutian forces."

Off the coast of Djibouti, the U.S. Navy and Djibouti Navy practiced VBSS procedures. These types of techniques are important to keeping international shipping lanes safe from criminal use and further enhancing the prosperity and stability in the region.

"U.S. and Djiboutian forces gained a lot from working with one another," said Ens. Eric Handal, Gunston Hall's VBSS training officer. "All the participants were eager to share their experiences and knowledge, and I'm certain our ability to work together on any future military mission improved because of this training."

In local Djiboutian communities, Marines and Sailors from the 22nd MEU (SOC) and Gunston Hall also conducted several community relations events. They installed a water tank in Nagad, built a sun shade in Chabellier, painted a school in Douda and repaired the school's electrical boxes.

"Whenever there is an opportunity to assist those in need, we are glad to help," said Lt. Col. Mark R. Hollahan, commanding officer, Combat Logistics Battalion 22, 22nd MEU (SOC). "The Djiboutians were very receptive to our assistance, and we know our efforts were appreciated – it was evident in the smiling faces of the local Djiboutians."

Gunston Hall and 22nd MEU (SOC) are currently on a regularly-scheduled deployment supporting maritime security operations (MSO) with the Kearsarge Strike Group.

MSO help set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment, as well as complement the counterterrorism and security efforts of regional nations. These operations seek to disrupt violent extremists' use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.