ANJOUAN, Comoros - The last place soldiers from the Kentucky National Guard ever thought they would be is on the Comoros Islands (officially called Union of the Comoros) off the coast of Eastern Africa. After all, they were deploying to Djibouti, 1,600 miles north of the Comoros. But that is exactly where Capt. Matthew Doughman, 1st Lt. Justin Gilliam, and Spc. Ryan Stull would end up. The mission was a one-week military-to-military exchange to provide 28 Comoran soldiers “best practices” in first aid.
The Comoros is roughly twice the size of Louisville, Ky., and is made up of three islands of over 700,000 people. It is strategically located in the mouth of the Mozambique Channel in the western Indian Ocean roughly 200 miles east of Mozambique and 200 miles northwest of Madagascar.
In April 2012, the Comoros was inundated by heavy rains, causing the worst flooding in decades. These downpours caused landslides, collapsed bridges, contaminated fresh water supplies and isolated many communities from evacuation. With approximately 46,000 people displaced, France and India, along with the Red Crescent and Red Cross and funding from the U.S.’s USAID, began sending disaster-relief teams and supplies to the affected regions of the country.
To better prepare Comoros to handle future disasters, the country submitted a request to the U.S. Embassy in Madagascar, which also serves as home for the U.S. Chargé d'Affaires to the Comoros, for a U.S. military-to-military team. The team would provide medical training on first aid, casualty evacuation procedures, CPR, and field hygiene to the Comoran military, who are often the first responders to a disaster. After receiving the request at the embassy, it was sent to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) offices in Djibouti, where the Kentucky National Guard’s Task Force Longrifles was selected for the mission.
Doughman, a native of Crestview, Fla., served as mission commander and said he was thrilled to get an opportunity to visit the Comoros and work with the Comoran military.
“You can probably count on your hand the number of times National Guard soldiers of any state have gotten to train in this beautiful country,” said Doughman. “You could tell the Comoran soldiers had a huge sense of accomplishment and took the training very seriously as well,” he added.
Gilliam, from Lexington, Ky., a medical services officer for Task Force Longrifles was also selected to provide support for the mission. His responsibilities included teaching preventative medicine, CPR, and casualty-evacuation techniques.
“Many of these soldiers have never received formal CPR training and I think the floods of 2012 have really provided them an experience that emphasizes why it is so important,” said Gilliam.
First Lt. Yasser Said, the Comoran liaison officer who helped coordinate the mission, is excited about future partnerships as well.
“It’s a good thing to have the U.S. soldiers here and we hope to have more of these kinds of partnerships in the future,” said Said at the completion of the training.
All of the Task Force Longrifles soldiers agreed the best part of the exchange was seeing how proud the Comoran soldiers were to have first aid skills so that they can better serve their fellow soldiers and civilians in times of crisis.
“The Comoran soldiers were incredibly thankful to receive this training and I hope we made as big an impact on them as they have on us,” said Doughman.