CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti (AFNS) –
An Air Force photojournalist graduated from a French military desert commando course Oct. 16 here, calling the experience an "11-day gut check."
Staff Sgt. Chad Warren, who is assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa public affairs office, started in a class of 160 members. Two Airmen and five Soldiers were among the 143 who successfully completed the physical and mental tests.
“Initially, I wanted to just do a story on this course, and take photos … and then I thought, ‘oh this is a cool piece, there are some Americans going through this course, too,’” the Memphis, Tenn., native said. “I just happened to make the comment that it would be cool if I could go through it. I have always liked to challenge myself.”
Warren had to be cleared medically and physically before participating. He was also issued the necessary equipment and picked up a few tips from previous course graduates on how to deal with this demanding desert course.
“It was definitely a surprise coming into it, it’s a lot more physically demanding, and it’s a lot of work out here in the heat,” Warren said.
“This is one of four French commando courses. ...this is the desert/beach commando course so the bread and butter of the course is really (performing) war fighting skills in the assigned environment,” Warren explained.
The course was broken up into two squads. One squad started grueling combat tactics in the field and the other began a number of physically demanding and mentally exhausting courses designed to test their overall ability to survive. After completing the assigned tasks the groups swapped.
Warren had been in Africa for about five months, and he said he wasn’t too worried about his fitness level.
“I’m in the gym at least five days a week, so I thought that would play a big part in helping me with this (course), but it’s a different kind of physical fitness out (in the desert),” Warren said. “It’s not about how strong you are or how far you can run. It’s about how resilient you are, and how you can handle the heat, and how you can stay hydrated, and how you prepare yourself.”
Heat injuries are a main concern when dealing with desert survival. The French military designed this course to ensure their forces are ready for desert combat.
The final test for both squads was a 36-hour march through the desert to apply what they had learned throughout the course.
“I am glad I did it. You couldn’t pay me enough to do it again, but I’m very glad I did it,” Warren said.