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The last of approximately 200 Soldiers from the Illinois Army National Guard’s 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, based in Normal, Illinois, arrived home just in time to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with friends and family following a successful deployment to Djibouti in Africa.
“The 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade – a unit based right in the heart of Illinois - did an outstanding job in one of the most strategically important areas of the world,” said Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the Adjutant General of Illinois and Commander of the Illinois National Guard. “Many do not realize how Illinois National Guard service members make a positive impact around the world. The 404th is a great example of our citizen-Soldiers playing a vital role in our nation’s security.”
The 404th MEB deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa in early 2022. During the deployment, they trained and operated with their Djiboutian partners as well as several other allies with forces in the Horn of Africa region.
Djibouti is a strategically important environment. Its proximity to one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world has made it a place of great interest to a lot of different nations who rely on goods being shipped through its waters. There are very few places in the world where different military installations from many different countries are clustered in close proximity, including China's only overseas military base.
During the deployment, the Illinois National Guard Soldiers worked with military forces from the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Italy, Spain, Kenya, and South Korea as well as Djibouti
The unit monitored and oversaw day-to-day operations and provided situational updates throughout East Africa. It supported operations in Kenya by preparing and conducting training for security forces including explosive ordnance disposal training.
The unit’s liaison officers strengthened the relationships with host nations and foreign partners. Illinois National Guard Soldiers worked directly with multiple Djiboutian military organizations to stand up 10 language computer labs, implement six English discussion groups at Djiboutian military bases, and coordinate dozens of key leader engagements with senior Djiboutian officials. The 404th MEB also planned, coordinated, and executed the East Africa Security Forum, which showcased CJTF-HOA capabilities to ambassadors and defense attachés from 13 East African countries.
The unit coordinated multiple aviation training exercises with French forces including air-to-air refueling and joint missions over coastal waters. The 404th MEB coordinated U.S. to French training engagements in explosive ordnance disposal, aviation, pararescue, medical, logistics and military working dog teams, among others.
Illinois National Guard liaison Soldiers in Kenya and Ethiopia worked at the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Ethiopia, and became a vital link between the Department of State and CJTF-HOA, arranging for important meetings and providing logistical support. The 404th MEB also had a liaison officer in Germany, expediting the information flow between CJTF-HOA and its higher headquarters, AFRICOM.
The unit also provided force protection to multiple locations across East Africa for more than 5,000 service members and Department of Defense personnel as well as over a billion dollars in mission critical assets. Illinois National Guard Soldiers conducted threat vulnerability assessments to identify risk to U.S. and Allied force and provided mitigation strategies and equipment.
The 404th MEB Soldiers coordinated with other Army personnel as well as the U.S. Air Force, Marines, and Navy to ensure force protection equipment was moved, installed and maintained and that proper training on the equipment was conducted.
A team of Illinois National Guard Soldiers conducted multiple demonstrations of counter unmanned aerial aircraft capabilities to foreign partners and dignitaries, re-assuring our partners of U.S. capabilities in this new area of warfare. These demonstrations consisted of drone detections and engagements, The team regularly met with foreign partners to discuss airspace and developments in unmanned aircraft systems around the world.
A team of Illinois National Guard communications experts successfully integrated multiple expeditionary tactical communication terminals to support operations for the CJTF-HOA and the East African Response Force. This ensured reliable voice and data communications. The team also reestablished an important digital connection for strategic operations in Africa.
The communications team conducted more than 60 missions across four countries on the African continent ensuring reliable military communications for U.S. forces. They assisted in personnel recovery communications and with establishing persistent communication channels with U.S. personnel in Somalia. The team provided communication channels for security at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, and forward operating locations in East Africa.
Other 404th MEB Soldiers worked with the Djiboutian government and the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti to enhance an American Corner in Djibouti City and establish English language labs throughout the country. The American Corner is a community building which allows Djiboutian citizens to learn about American culture, classes for resume writing, learning the English language, and learning how to operate computers and 3D printers.
The unit also completed the first ever all digital personnel accountability exercise in East Africa. It processed more than 2,000 individual awards, managed evaluations for more than 300 task force service members, updated more than 30 policies and instruction documents, maintained accountability of more than 1,700 service members and worked with other services and the higher adjacent headquarters to ensure the Task Force has the right positions and people to accomplish its missions.
The Illinois National Guard Soldiers participated in multiple military exercises while deployed including African Lion 23. African Lion 23 was an all-domain, multi-national exercise which focused on preparing forces for large-scale combat operations.
The 404th MEB also has medical experts, including a behavioral health team. The team strengthened and cared for the mental health and resilience of 5,000 service members and Department of Defense personnel while deployed. The Illinois National Guard behavioral health team and a Japanese military behavioral health team shared best practices and techniques. The team also facilitated strategic partnerships with the French Medical Command.
The 404th medical team also assisted a U.S. Air Force civil affairs team and the Djiboutian Ministry of Agriculture with administering vitamins, deworming medications, and anti-pesticide treatments to over 2,000 goats, hundreds of sheep, and dozens of camels. This helped support relations with the Djiboutian populace and increased health of the animals that are a main source of food and income.
The Illinois National Guard Soldiers also enhanced the Warfighter Recovery Network (WRN) improving the joint trauma care network, integrating trauma assets, facilitating options for evacuation with enroute resuscitative care and validating health service support plans through site assessments.
Illinois National Guard Soldiers also operated the CJTF-HOA protocol team. The team planned and executed more than 180 distinguished visitor engagements, ranging from hour-long office calls to multi-day extended stays on Camp Lemonnier. The team was tasked with coordinating the involvement of CJTF-HOA leadership and ensuring each visit and ceremony was conducted properly according to both U.S. military and government protocols as well as foreign protocols.
“Our Soldiers did an outstanding job with a vast and complex mission,” said Col. Justin Towell, who commanded the 404th MEB and served as the CJTF-HOA Chief of Staff during the deployment. “Illinois can be proud of how our Soldiers protected our nation and represented our state on foreign soil.”