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Military dignitaries from Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda visit Threat Hall inside the II Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters building aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, March 10. The dignitaries’ two-day visit to Camp Lejeune is part of a three-base amphibious familiarization tour, learning amphibious assault techniques and observing various training exercises.

Photo by Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

East African military dignitaries visit Lejeune

11 Mar 2011 | Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

Since its birth in 1775, the United States Marine Corps has been a model military force that many foreign nations have come to adopt, forging their own countries’ Marine Corps as an elite land and amphibious force. However, simply utilizing an ethos is not enough to maintain a superior force-in-readiness.

In response, branches of the Department of Defense regularly cross-train with numerous nations’ militaries across the globe. In this practice, each party involved is shown different ways to conduct various military operations while also building better international rapport.

Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune saw such an interaction as military dignitaries from the countries of Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda visited the area and oversaw various training operations, March 10 and 11.

“(The Marine Corps) conducts a lot of military-to-military training, in this case with some of the African nations,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Arabelle Flores, country coordination element for the Embassy of the United States in Uganda under the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa. “For instance, with the Ugandan Marine Corps deploying to Somalia, they look to us in these mil-to-mil exchanges for education and training to help better their military for future operations.”

Their visit to Camp Lejeune was the last stop in a tour of East Coast military bases, all centering around amphibious familiarization. The officials of the three African nations first visited Marine Corps Base Quantico and Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va., before making their final stop aboard Camp Lejeune.

The officials themselves are high-ranking commanding officers and training officers; a few of them commanding their nations’ entire Marine Corps force.

“A lot of what they learned on their trip will be taken back to their country and implemented into their training regimen,” said Flores.

The start of their two-day tour of Camp Lejeune commenced with a visit to the II Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters building, viewing the weapons in Threat Hall and the historical pieces throughout the main lobby. Due to inclement weather, a ride aboard a landing craft, air cushion was cancelled, replaced by tours of Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune and the newly-opened Fisher House and the Wounded Warriors Battalion – East’s new Bachelor Enlisted Quarters.

From there, the group visited the 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, to view their amphibious assault equipment. Cpl. Matthew Kissel, crew chief with the 2nd AABn, showed the dignitaries around his crew’s AAVP7A1 Armored Personnel Carrier.

“It’s important they conduct these international visits to help better their militaries,” said Kissel. “They are able to build upon what they already have while strengthening ties with our country at the same time.”

After a lunch in the Courthouse Bay mess hall, the group then visited the II MEF Force Reconnaissance Company headquarters to learn how Force Reconnaissance operates and view various pieces of equipment used by recon Marines, such as multi-fuel engines for rubber landing boats and the .50-caliber M-107 precision sniper rifle.

“America’s military capabilities are far, far superior to what we would be able to afford,” said Maj. Gerald Butera, training officer for the Rwandan Marine Corps. “Yet it shows us what we can improve on and aim to aspire to such capabilities.”

The final stop for the day included observing Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry – East students conduct military operations on urban terrain exercises aboard Camp Geiger. Training included infiltrating a compound in four-man teams and street patrolling.

“This whole trip will vastly aid in the advancement of our troop’s special skills,” said Lt. Col. Michael Nyarwa, commanding officer of the Ugandan Marine Corps. “As we attempt to expand our forces, we will instill new amphibious assault and reconnaissance techniques into our training as well as the officer and (noncommissioned officer) education we learned at Quantico.”

The second day, March 11, the group toured the Joint Maritime Training Center aboard Courthouse Bay, viewing riverine crafts and facilities as well as observing the Riverine Security Team Member and Riverine Crewman Courses.

With their visit of Camp Lejeune complete, the dignitaries left for Jacksonville’s Albert J. Ellis Airport with valuable education to bring back to their countries’ militaries. This visit, and all international military visits, is more than simply aiding each others’ military forces, but building stronger relations between the people of each country and aiding in the understanding of their culture and lifestyles.

“The main purpose of these visits is not to try to duplicate technology, but to see how we do things as Marines and cross-educate each other,” said Flores. “We are building a lot of partnerships with these nations, and in the end that is what matters the most.”