By Tech. Sgt. Lynette Rolen and Sgt. Lisa Crawford, CJTF-HOA Public Affairs
Soldiers from the Illinois Army National Guard’s 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (MEB), headquartered in Normal, Illinois, assumed responsibility of the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) mission from the Nebraska Army National Guard’s 67th MEB, Feb. 26.
As a dynamic operational headquarters, CJTF-HOA ensures a strategic partnership with Djibouti, responds to crises, supports operations, protects U.S. lives and enables the countering of violent extremist organizations throughout East Africa in order to enhance stability and prosperity. CJTF-HOA works with partner nations, coalition forces and interagency and intergovernmental organizations to achieve a unified effort.
“You’re arriving at a pivotal time in DoD and U.S. government’s time in East Africa,” U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William Zana, commanding general of CJTF-HOA, said to the incoming 404th MEB. “You’re going to be both witness and participant to history.”
CJTF-HOA is headquartered at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, the only permanent U.S. military installation on the African continent. While serving CJTF-HOA, the 404th MEB will work hand-in-hand with their Djiboutian counterparts and other partner nations for integrated security tactics, mobility and functional methods.
According to the commanding general, CJTF-HOA and the MEB play a central role in the implementation of U.S. decisions affecting activities in the region and on the African continent as a whole. While the impact of those decisions will determine the tempo of operations at CJTF-HOA, Zana added that the 67th MEB has continued to build on an outstanding foundation and has ensured the 404th is adequately prepared.
“Today our chapter closes in the history book of this organization,” said U.S. Army Col. Brian Medcalf, 67th MEB commander, also the outgoing CJTF-HOA chief of staff. “The mission here is quietly executed by the very best the nation has to offer.”
Thanking the entire CJTF-HOA staff and joint partners in attendance, Medcalf also reminded his team of the important accomplishments they achieved during their nine-month rotation at Camp Lemonnier. As the outgoing MEB commander expressed his thanks, the incoming 404th MEB commander, U.S. Army Col. Justin Towell, of Edwardsville, Illinois, offered his excitement for the new challenge and expectations for his team.
“Today starts a new chapter in our storied history as we now are integrated into the CJTF-HOA,” Towell said. “…You all have trained hard for this mission and I know this team will move the ball forward with each and every task.
“I have trained this young staff; they are hungry, eager, dedicated, and willing to throw everything they have to ensure the success of CJTF-HOA,” Towell added.
Zana addressed the significance of the CJTF-HOA mission and the heavy responsibility required of the 404th Soldiers.
“Your work is part of this combined, joint-interagency team and in that role, you’re going to be ambassadors of your service, ambassadors of your state, ambassadors of the National Guard, and ambassadors of our nation,” said Zana. “My expectation is that you’re going to be exceptional team players. This ambassador role can’t be understated. You’re the face of our nation, to so many of our partners, both here and across the region. You’ve got to take that on. It’s a big responsibility and one that I think you’re going to excel at.”
In October 2020, the first MEB, the 196th of Sioux Falls, South Dakota Army National Guard, became the new headquarters staff at CJTF-HOA. For the first time, the headquarters moved from its conceptional structure of filling its forces out of joint force individual augmentees. Individual augmentees came with a high-turnover rate and continuity challenges; CJTF-HOA leadership sought a new solution.
The headquarters staff liked the idea of a single-unit solution that could perform headquarters functions, deploy as a unit, and perform turnover with other like units, less frequently. The solution came in the form of MEBs.
According to Zana, the National Guard Bureau quickly committed to the request to provide MEBs for the CJTF-HOA mission, and worked to overcome an absence of doctrine, training pipeline and other infrastructure necessary to train a formation to come to Africa. The Soldiers of the 196th helped build the foundation for the future of the task force and the transition of MEB rotations.
Filling 60 percent of the command responsibility with a single unit brings the benefit of a self-contained, modular, and multifunctional support unit that can easily be customized to meet mission requirements. There are currently 19 MEBs in the U.S. Army, 16 in the National Guard and three in the Army Reserves.
“As we embark on this third MEB rotation, each MEB will impart their own legacy on this transition and how we got here and where we’re going,” said Zana. “Members of the 196th were the pathfinders; they were figuring out a very complex transition and setting the course for future MEBs. The 67th legacy is one of raising the bar and normalizing the MEB’s role and processes. You have set a high standard for the 404th. I think the 404th’s legacy is going to be refining, improving and building momentum for future rotations and more broadly, for this headquarters’ role here on the continent.”
404th MEB, Illinois Army National Guard, took responsibility 26 February, 2022
67th MEB, Nebraska Army National Guard, served June 2021 to February 2022
196th MEB, South Dakota Army National Guard, served September 2020 to June 2021