BEN GHILOUF, Tunisia –
Most people living in the United States have daily routines that involve using conveniences that we take for granted in our homes; we get out of bed in the morning, turn on lights, run the water, and plug in various devices. We generally do these things without a second thought.
When supporting participants in a military exercise conducted in an austere environment, all these activities are made possible by a group like the 311th Expeditionary Sustainment Command – an Army Reserve unit headquartered in Los Angeles, California. The 311th ESC members are responsible for ensuring that just such life support requirements are met at the Ben Ghilouf Training Area in Tunisia during the multinational training exercise known as African Lion 2022.
Nine members of the 311th ESC traveled to southern Tunisia to coordinate and oversee the setup and maintenance of living and working structures for U.S. exercise participants. According to Maj. Thomas Olesen, element commander/Mayor’s Cell officer-in-charge for the 311th, the ESC works as part of the 650th Regional Support Group – the higher-echelon Army Reserve unit based in Sloan, Nevada, tasked with the overall multi-nation support mission for African Lion 22.
To meet the challenges associated with supporting the diverse needs of the Army and Marine units living at the Ben Ghilouf Training Area, the 311th ESC employs members possessing a wide variety of skills and experiences.
Staff Sgt. Anthony Rojas is, by his own description, “the superintendent of life support activities” at the Ben Ghilouf Training Area. Rojas’ normal military job is in administrative personnel processing, but his exercise role involves inspecting facilities and equipment, fielding requests from exercise tenants, reporting findings and requirements to the mayor’s cell, and coordinating with local contractors to complete needed work.
“I take my responsibilities very seriously whether it’s someone’s pay or a problem with the showers or maybe the door to their quarters,” said Staff Sgt. Rojas. “I want everybody to be able to do their jobs without having to worry about those things.”
A 19-year member of the U.S. Army Reserve, Rojas worked as an operating room technician for 17 years prior to switching to human resources, in which he also holds a special designation as a trainer. He cites his experience in deployments to Iraq and his work during relief efforts in Operation New Horizon in Honduras as key factors in preparing him for his current duties.
“I’ve definitely learned to make use of all available resources to get my job done, whatever that might turn out to be,” said Rojas.
Rojas added that the high operations tempo and stressors associated with his former medical job have helped him bring a sense of urgency to each project that comes his way.
Rojas remarked, “For me, it’s really just about taking care of troops the best way I can.”
Sgt. Pablo Albizures, human resource non-commissioned officer, 311th ESC, has been a soldier for over 23 years – seven of those as a full-time Army Reserve professional. Albizures has held military occupational specialties in automated logistics, wheeled vehicle operations, mortuary affairs, and human resources. He felt fortunate to have the opportunity to coordinate with U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa, prior to the start of an expanded exercise format compared to the previous year.
“There’s something like ten times the number of people taking part in the exercise in Tunisia compared to last year,” noted Albizures.
Pre-planning and coordination activities involving RSG elements like the 311th ESC provided opportunities for SETAF-AF to share essential information and review best practices while assisting units assigned to the 650th RSG in their preparations for executing their deployed missions throughout the exercise.
Albizures stated, “It was great having the ability to get that coordination and all the pointers we got from SETAF.”
As the 311th ESC executed its portion of the plan, 1st Lt. Go Kim, a personnel officer, helped address some of the logistical challenges that the unit faced in the planning and initial setup phases prior to and during the arrival of the soldiers and Marines.
From confirming the number of participants who would be living at the Ben Ghilouf Training Area to adjusting for equipment transportation delays and bringing in additional housing units to supplement the tents that had been erected to house the troops, Kim said that it worked to the 311th ESC team’s advantage to bring personnel with a lot of different experiences under their belts.
“Identifying the people and coordinating for sharing knowledge and skills was really key,” said Kim.
Having a total of nine soldiers to manage, monitor and coordinate the feeding, housing, and general needs of hundreds of exercise participants, the 311th ESC takes on the task at hand with a very small number of personnel.
Kim pointed out, “Despite the fact we have such a small team, we have a great range of capabilities.”
African Lion is U.S. Africa Command’s largest joint annual multinational exercise hosted concurrently by Ghana, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia. Over 7,500 participants from 28 nations and NATO train together in a variety of disciplines with a focus on enhancing the readiness of U.S. and partner-nation forces. AL22 is a joint, all-domain, multicomponent exercise employing a full array of mission capabilities with the goal of strengthening interoperability among participants and setting the theater for strategic access.