By DAKAR, Senegal
Navy Reserve Sailors from across the nation arrived in West Africa in early March to take the helm of exercise Obangame Express 2022 (OE22), the largest multinational maritime exercise in Africa.
Among the group, Reserve unit members supporting Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa N5 West Africa (CNE-CNA N5 Africa West), led the organizing for OE22 alongside ally and African partner nations.
The annual exercise, held from March 6 to 18, is one of three African regional Express series exercises sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) and facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Africa-U.S. Sixth Fleet (NAVAF/SIXTHFLT). This year was the eleventh iteration of the exercise, which focuses on the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. Thirty-two nations were present, as well as representatives from Interpol, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and other international and interagency partners.
The exercise also included Reserve Sailors from U.S. Naval Forces Africa, U.S. Naval Air Systems Command, and U.S. Sixth Fleet who worked throughout five exercise zones alongside active duty and civilian counterparts.
“This year we have about 50 Reserve Sailors —with 29 from my unit—supporting OE22 in a wide variety of roles,” said Capt. Thaison Do, commanding officer, NR CNE-CNA N5 Africa West, and exercise director, OE22. “Our unit has had a representative at each of the exercise’s planning events since early last year to understand what the command and our African partner's goals were for the exercise.”
OE22 is designed to improve regional cooperation, maritime domain awareness, information-sharing practices, and the collective capabilities of participating nations to counter sea-based illicit activity within the region.
Throughout the exercise, Do’s unit deployed country teams to 16 West African countries during the exercise’s two-week execution period with his team serving as the Main Exercise Control Group from Dakar, Senegal, the host country for OE22.
“Building the relationships with our African partners is very important in the long run,” said Cmdr. Tom Hess,Senegal team lead, logistics liason and unit member of NR CNE-CNA N5 Africa West. “If we ever needed help supporting a mission in the region sometime in the future, we know we have strong relations with contacts who view us warmly.”
Exercises such as OE22 provide a unique readiness opportunity for Reserve Sailors to work alongside active duty and foreign military personnel to execute training evolutions and rehearse for potential real-world scenarios.
“Working with our African partners allows our team to become local experts, allowing us to better support needs in the region,” said Do. “Being involved in such a large exercise ensures that we are developing the capabilities to lead, act, organize, and respond to situations they may face in the fleet.”
For Reserve Sailors, this year’s exercise was an opportunity to gain a wealth of experience.
“I have participated in every iteration of Obangame Express in some capacity since 2018," said Cmdr. Richard Martucci, commanding officer, Office of Naval Intelligence - Nimitz Washington. “I believe my past experiences have set me up for success as the NAVAF assessor for OE22. I'm responsible for providing a strategic, operational, and tactical assessment of OE22. My experience allows me to provide U.S., ally, and partner nation senior leaders with recommendations on a way forward.”
The two-week exercise showcased the skills and expertise Navy Reserve Sailors bring to the force on day one.
U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.