News: Airman earns French desert commando badge
Story by Tech. Sgt. Chad Thompson
CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti — “It’s definitely a big challenge--the whole thing is a big 11-day gut check,” are the words one airman used to describe a French desert commando course run by the French military in a training area near here.
Oct. 6 to the 16 will be 11 days that U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Chad Warren, a photojournalist assigned to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa public affairs office, won’t soon forget.
“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.”
He started asking the right questions, and the rest was history.
Warren went through an evaluation to ensure there was nothing in his medical history to disqualify him, picked up the necessary equipment and a few tips from previous course graduates, and he took a fitness test required by the applicants to ensure they were fit enough to begin the demanding desert course.
“Before beginning the course, we had to take a physical assessment just to make sure that we were good to go, and we weren’t going to get out here and just immediately not be able to do any of the stuff,” Warren said. “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.”
He had been in Africa for about five months, and he said he wasn’t too worried about his fitness.
“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, and this course was designed so the French military could test their forces to ensure they are ready for desert combat.
“This is one of four French commando courses, and this is the desert/beach commando course so the bread and butter of the course is really (performing) warfighting skills in the assigned environment,” Warren explained.
During the course there were different mental and physical tests. Warren’s class started with 160 members, of those 143 graduated, including two airmen and five U.S. soldiers.
The class was split into two squads. One group 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 task the groups swapped. The final test for the entire class 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.
Warren has been in the Air Force for more than six years and is deployed from the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.