ARTA PLAGE, Djibouti -- French and American fighting men strengthened a bond of partnership, forged 60 years ago on the beaches of Normandy, France, during a bilateral amphibious landing and live-fire training mission here, June 6.
On June 6, 1944, approximately 135,000 American soldiers and 177 French commando forces joined together with more than 35,000 other Allied partners to storm the beaches of Normandy, France, to overwhelm the enemy’s “West Wall” defenses in an attempt to liberate the country from a Nazi, Germany occupation.
Before the sun crossed the horizon over the small African country, 11 soldiers with Bravo Company, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard,” and 17 Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, and 40 French Commandos stationed in Djibouti, boarded a French amphibious landing ship, the Dague, to embark on their two hour boat ride from the Djibouti sea port to the beach at the Arta French Foreign Legion Base.
For many of the Marines and soldiers, this was the first time they had been aboard a landing ship. For Spc. Stephen M. Kuehn, a rifleman with “The Old Guard, the ride on the Dague was just the beginning to his day of first times.
“This was the first time for me and my company to train with the French Special Forces,” said Kuehn, a Troy, N.Y., native. “They were really nice and professional.”
The landing ship, transporting troops and wheeled vehicles, slowly trudged toward the objective, a mock Normandy beachhead called Arta Beach. Once hitting the beachhead, the French and American troops stormed the beach on foot and by tactical vehicles to their next objective.
With everyone off the ship, the gate closed and the Dague headed back to sea. For the French personnel aboard, participating in the D-Day commemoration is an important event performed every year in their country.
“We were really pleased to be able to be a small part of this event,” said French Navy Capt. Damien Appriou, commanding officer of the landing ship. “Working with the U.S. troops was a pleasure.”
Back in France, military bases and cities celebrate D-Day together. This year is very special because it is the 60th anniversary and many French commandos who stormed the beaches that are still alive today, received the Legion d’Honneur medal, France’s highest decoration, said French Lt. Col. Remi Chassaing, a French liaison officer for Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.
“Today is one of the most important days to celebrate,” said Chassaing. “Our countries have been in many conflicts together, this event is a great way to show the partnerships we have held for some many years.”
For the soldiers participating in the commemorative amphibious landing exercise, D-Day is also a major event in U.S. Army history. Even though the symbolic exercise the soldiers participated in was challenging, it was nothing compared to what their predecessors went through in 1944.
“It gives you an appreciation for the sacrifices they made back then,” said Kuehn. “It was great to work with the French like they did 60 years ago.”
The partnership and cooperation between the two militaries became very evident while the troops moved on to their next objective, a squad of targets simulating enemy personnel. With air support and reconnaissance from a French helicopter and Mirage fighter jets, the live-fire exercise ran very smoothly with the excellent cooperation apparent between the two military forces, said 1st Lt. Adam B. Rickenbach, the range safety officer for the live-fire exercise.
“The actual face-to-face coordination between the American and French militaries was very important,” said Rickenbach, an Oelrichs, S.D., native. “We haven’t had the opportunity to work with the French in a while, this was a great step for future training.”
With weapons drawn, the militaries assaulted over 150 yards, going one military at a time to show each other the infantry tactics each one uses.
“It was good for everyone to see the different tactics, gear and weapons used by the French,” said Marine Cpl. David B. Montgomery, a Charleston, S.C., native, and team leader with Kilo Company. “There should be more training like this.”
Once the live-fire exercise was completed, the elite forces made their way to a trail leading to the French commando base camp, the final destination for the troops. From here they walked up the steep incline, a trail well known to the commandos because it is climbed many times during their training.
Once at the camp, the tired and thirsty troops watched at the position of attention as the U.S. and French flags were raised over the French commando compound symbolizing the partnership between the two countries. After the short flag raising ceremony, the service men spent some quality time with each other during lunch at the base.
“It was great talking and getting to know the French,” said Kuehn. “We talked about the U.S. and France, we really got to learn a lot about their culture.”
With a successful day of training and remembrance over, the two military forces discussed future training exercises with one another. Participating in common bi-lateral training exercises between French and American troops is very important for continued success in the Global War on Terrorism, said Chassaing.
“Too often foreign militaries don’t have enough knowledge of each other,” said Chassaing. “With more training exercises like this, the more experience we will have with each other for future conflicts.”