RC grad shares experience of serving the U.S. Army in Africa

Submitted by Maj. Joey Errington, Operations Officer, U.S. Army—

It is difficult to establish a checkpoint to the United Nation’s standards in the daylight, and it’s extremely complicated to set one up in the limited visibility of a moonless night at the edge of the jungle at 4 a.m. near Kindia, Guinea.

Lt. Col. Diallo and Maj. Errington at the gun range. Photos supplied

Lt. Col. Diallo and Maj. Errington at the gun range. Photos supplied

A military truck approaches the checkpoint as the last instructions are shouted in French to finish building the force protection security area. U.S. Army Maj. Joey Errington offers advice to his Guinean counterpart on techniques to make the process more efficient. This is the one of the culminating training events getting the Guinean Infantry Battalion ready for deployment with the United Nations into Mali.

Errington is a 1990 graduate of Rush City High School and is the officer in charge of the 35-man training team in the Western African Country of Guinea.

“We hand-selected senior NCOs (noncommissioned officers) and officers to embed with the Guinean Battalion at the platoon level for an eight-week training mission,” Errington said.

The American mentoring team is composed of leaders from the 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery as a part of the Regionally Aligned Force for Africa out of the 1st Infantry Division based in Fort Riley, Kan. The Guinean Infantry Battalion was formed a couple of months ago and is called the Gangan Battalion, after the mountain closest to the local training area.

Preparation for this mission started last September when the team was selected and attended training called Dagger University at Fort Riley. DU was a weeklong course that was heavy in cross-cultural rapport building, cultural awareness, French language, U.N. rules of engagement and peace keeping operations. The course also focused on foreign weapons training and combat scenarios.

“Our team has to be the subject matter experts on AK-47s and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) as we led the marksmanship ranges last week for the Gangan Battalion,” remarked Errington as he was inspecting an AK-47 assault rifle to ensure that the soldier was carrying it on “safe.” The team also had to get official U.S. passports, apply for visas into Guinea, and get a plethora of vaccinations including for yellow fever.

One of Errington’s American mentors assists a Guinean machine gunner.

One of Errington’s American mentors assists a Guinean machine gunner.

Errington and his logistics officer, 1st Lt. Isaac Brown, traveled to Guinea twice in the fall to create food, water, interpreter, driver and vehicle contracts and to establish a joint training program with the Guinean Military. This included coordination with the U.S. Embassy team and meeting with the American ambassador to Guinea several times. Errington also had the honor of meeting the president of Guinea, as this training mission has a very high visibility profile in Africa and the U.N.

Guinea currently ranks 178 out of 187 countries on the U.N.’s Human Development Index that measures several factors including standard of living, quality of life, literacy rates and life expectancy. The infrastructure people are used to in the United States is lacking in Guinea, resulting in unreliable power, water, Internet and poorly maintained, overcrowded roads. The country is a cash- and black-market-based country with only a few ATMs or credit card-accessible merchants in the capital city of Conakry.

“The lack of infrastructure caused friction in the traditional American military planning process, but we were able to think outside of the box and come up with a low-cost and resourceful solution,” Errington said. The team stays on the Guinean military base, drinks bottled water and eats boxed food and MREs (packaged meals ready to eat) from the U.S. Army.

The training mission Errington is leading falls under the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance model. The ACOTA program is funded and managed by the U.S. Department of State. The initiative is designed to improve African militaries’ capabilities by providing selected training and equipment necessary for multinational peace support operations. U.S. Africa Command supports the ACOTA program by providing military mentors, trainers and advisers at the request of the State Department.

Errington gives a speech to the Combat Life Saver Course graduation that was televised on a national station.

Errington gives a speech to the Combat Life Saver Course graduation that was televised on a national station.

Each American mentor accompanies his counterpart throughout all planning and training.  This includes physical fitness, work details, firing ranges and situational training exercises.

“The Guineans’ physical fitness program emphasis endurance; we logged 27 miles during the first four days of training,” Errington said with a smile. “I will be running a record-breaking half marathon when we return to the U.S.”

The training day usually starts at 6:30 a.m. and ends at 5:30 p.m. The long day is compounded with the heat of the western African sun, where it is 92-96 degrees and sunny each day during the current dry season.

The training schedule builds upon the lessons learned during the previous day’s instruction. The team focused on individual skills like weapons, equipment standards and reporting procedures in the opening week and have now moved on to collective tasks, like the checkpoint training, before they culminate the advising mission in a live fire exercise. Each event incorporates the humanitarian aspects and reinforces the law of war and rules of engagement that the battalion will be accountable for. All of the training will establish the conditions for the Guinean Battalion to make correct decisions quickly and decisively in a complex mission.

The majority of the American mentors on Errington’s team are married and their families have spent the last couple of months at Fort Riley surviving the daily routine while the service member is away.

“The Army is a big family and takes care of each other,” said Alison Errington at Fort Riley. The Erringtons have three children in third, sixth and eighth grade at the Fort Riley elementary and middle schools. Errington has missed Billy’s basketball season, Brooke’s regional science fair presentation and Becky’s dance practices, but, like most military families, they have revived the old communication technique of letter writing.

“This mission is so rewarding, but I am looking forward to getting home and giving everyone a big hug, grill a steak supper for the family and watch a recording of the Super Bowl,” Errington said as he observed training in the Guinean heat.

Errington first entered the Army as a member of the Minnesota National Guard in 1989 with the unit stationed in Pine City and has been on active duty service since 1993. He has deployed several times over the years to Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt, Bosnia, Norway, Germany and now Guinea. Errington has been awarded two Bronze stars and a purple heart during his tours in Iraq.  Errington and his wife Alison have been married almost 20 years and they have lived in six states and two countries as they have moved around with the Army.

Errington has a bachelor’s degree from Clemson University and a master’s degree from Webster University. His parents, Dennis and Julie Errington, live on a farm north of Rush City.

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