'Ode to Joy'

'Ode to Joy'

April 27, 2011

Marines, Senegalese commandos maneuver through river obstacles

U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Michael J. Thomas maneuvers a bobbing crossbeam during a water obstacle course in the Sadoum River, recently. Thomas, platoon commander for second platoon, Ground Combat Element, Security Cooperation Task Force, Africa Partnership Station 2011 has led the platoon through several facets of APS-11's mission of a partnered military-to-military exchange in Senegal. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Timothy Solano)

By LCpl. Timothy Solano, Marine Forces Africa 

TOUBAKOUTA, Senegal   — High tide in the Sadoum River here makes for a perfect training day as the Marines of second platoon, Ground Combat Element, Security Cooperation Task Force, Africa Partnership Station 2011 partner alongside Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service operators and Senegalese commandos.

Though the day’s primary partnered event was a sure reprieve from the heat, maneuvering through the Senegalese river obstacle course was no easy feat.

In full military uniform, the platoons moved from obstacle to obstacle in teams of four as they crossed floating monkey bars, pulled themselves over a bobbing wall and leapt from a high dive, among other events. By the midpoint of the course, the effect of maneuvering through a water course was apparent on all participants.

 “By the end of the course, I felt like I used every muscle I had,” said Lance Cpl. Zach Stevens, a San Francisco native. “This was an effective training tool, especially for this platoon of [amphibious assault vehicle operators].

“As Marines, we’re amphibious by nature,” he added. The river’s current played its own role in the difficulty level of the course, whose participants’ various swim levels ranged from beginner to advanced. For the Marines who usually conduct combat water survival qualification in a pool, this variable added to the complexity of the course. “The obstacle course was very difficult,” said Senegalese air force commando Babacar Ngom, a first-time swimmer. “I left the river, came back to my bed and took a nap.”

Likewise, the Marines took from the course a respect for the difficulty of a moving current.

“The water is not something you can beat,” said Gunnery Sgt. Michael Connors, platoon sergeant for second platoon and a Fitchburg, Mass., native. “You have to work with it, not against it. Either way it’s going to take a lot out of you, even through a course as short as this.”

Approximately 150 meters of rope secured the o-course just off the river shoreline as some maneuvered expertly and others struggled to finish the course. The four-man teams ensured one another’s success through each obstacle, and no personnel had to be recovered by the nearby safety boat. Connors, who is also a certified Marine Corps Water Survival Instructor, supervised the exercise for his Marines as well as the Senegalese and Nigerian troops.

Though second platoon’s home base of Camp Lejeune, N.C., does not have a water obstacle course of its own, the effectiveness of the course set a precedent for each Marine to pass on future water endurance training.

“The water is one of the best training tools we can use for fitness, and we don’t use it enough,” said Connors. “Having the Senegalese show us this training tool provided the Marines with another tool to train themselves and their subordinates in building endurance.”

Africa Partnership Station 2011 is a U.S. Africa Command maritime security engagement program that is designed to strengthen participating nations’ maritime security capacity through multilateral collaboration and cross-border cooperation. Marine Corps Forces, Africa is supporting APS-11 with a Security Cooperation Task Force based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. The task force began its deployment in Ghana in March and is slated to continue its follow-on mission at Gabon in June.

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