California Soldier has mind-opening experience in West Africa
Courtesy of Sgt. Candace Mundt
DAKAR, Senegal — Ask any Army infantryman who joined after September 11, 2001 why they serve, and most will tell you they joined to fight for their country.
Most expect to come out of training and be shipped straight to war, but for one infantryman of 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, his first Army trip overseas took him to train alongside Senegalese Armed Forces in in Thiès, Senegal.
“I really wanted to go overseas and fight in Afghanistan, but I haven’t gotten the chance to do that,” said Spc. Steven Taylor, a team leader with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment of 2nd IBCT.
Even though Taylor, a southern California native with two and a half years in service, believed his first deployment would be to a war zone, he is excited to be part of Africa Readiness Training 16, an Army Africa exercise designed to strengthen the readiness of the U.S. and Senegalese partnership through infantry training and live-fire events from July 7 through 27.
“I think it’s good to go to another country and teach them our tactics,” Taylor said. “It means a lot to me to come over here and play a role in helping their army.”
During Africa Readiness Training 16, Taylor’s unit is validating squad and platoon-level tactics, techniques and procedures, which will culminate at the end of the three weeks with a company-level combined arms live-fire exercise with their Senegalese partners.
Taylor said his unit has shared some of their knowledge and infantry tactics with Senegalese soldiers, such as how to clear a room. They pick up things very fast, he observed, noting the similarities between the Senegalese and U.S. Soldiers.
“It’s mind-opening to see they train just as hard as we train,” Taylor said. “It seems like we have a lot in common. Our tactics are very similar. Even little things like going to the gym; like they all love working out, we all love working out.”
Having never been to Senegal before, Taylor was not sure what he would encounter in the foreign nation. He is learning a lot.
“I think this experience made me a better person by seeing a different culture,” Taylor said. “When I pictured Senegal, I figured it would be pretty much desert. I didn’t think there would be a city like Thiès.”
Staff Sgt. Sean Sandlin, a noncommissioned officer of the 1-30th Infantry who has observed U.S. and Senegalese troops during Africa Readiness Training 16, knows firsthand how working with foreign forces can benefit a U.S. Soldier. He has worked with armed forces of 36 different countries as an infantryman during deployments, training missions and permanent changes of station.
“They get to help train a foreign military that is extremely proud and motivated, very willing to learn,” Sandlin said. “So, it forces our Soldiers to want to step up and keep doing better.”
Having encountered more than three dozen different cultures throughout his military career, Sandlin understands well the value of witnessing other ways of life for oneself, and not just as it they are portrayed in the media.
“They get to see what reality looks like instead of (as it’s depicted on) television,” he said. “(They) immerse (themselves) entirely in the environment, and whether they like it or not, it will stick with them for the rest of their career and their life.”
While Africa Readiness Training 16 may not be the combat mission most infantrymen signed up for, Sandlin said he tells his Soldiers to train everyday like they are in combat. This mission, he believes, will better prepare the troops of 1-30th should they deploy.
“Every single thing they learn here will give them something to add to their tool bag for whenever they go down range,” Sandlin said.
“So, no matter where they’re training or what they’re doing, whether it’s combat or not, the knowledge they gain here is invaluable, from how their equipment works to how much water they need to drink.”
Relationships built between 1-30th Infantry and Senegalese at each live-fire, friendly wrestling match or just an evening around the chow hall table will likely impact each Soldier on an individual level, but collectively the exercise could have a lasting effect on the overall partnership between their nations.
“Working with these foreign militaries consistently breeds trust and confidence, and in the end that’s going to breed success,” Sandlin said.