After 28 years in the Army and earning the highest enlisted rank, Command Sgt. Major Daniel Elliott has seen a lot of things as an infantryman. But even he seemed surprised when three of his sons enlisted in the military after he deployed to Africa from Guam last year.
CSM Elliott and his wife, Rose Marie, have six children ages 11 to 24 and he looks forward to seeing them when he returns this May from his job as a liaison officer for an infantry company and commandant of the mobile Coalition Junior Noncommissioned Officers Academy in the Horn of Africa. "These countries didn't know what an NCO does and … that's where we came in," he shared. Using his experience as a leader and soldier, Elliott developed the first NCO course and took the classroom to the students, whether that was in Uganda or Ethiopia.
A role model not only for his family, but his soldiers, Elliott does everything from teaching hand-to-hand combat training to coordinating force protection for civil affairs missions. He called from Camp Lemonier, Djibouti recently and spoke with Tribune correspondent MyLinh Shattan about his deployment.
Tell us about your assignment? I came out here as the senior liaison officer, LNO, to C-1/294th infantry. I'm the middle man between Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) staff and C Company. I go to the company to do a confirmation brief, handle the communication, the forcepro (force protection), proper weapons for protection. That has to be done in order for them to leave the wire [leave the compound].
What is C Company's mission? Our main focus is mil-to-mil [military to military] training and a lot of force protection. Let's say well diggers are going out, they bring protection with them, maybe a team, a squad. For a big unit we might send out a whole squad. We're spread out in two different parts of Ethiopia, Camp Hurso and Bilate. We're co-located with the Special Forces unit in Bilate. In Hurso we're co-located with the Ethiopian army.
We are also focused here in Djibouti, working with Djiboutians and Ethiopians doing mil-to-mil training, and force protection in other countries like when the Seabees go to Kenya to dig wells. It all depends where the mission goes.
I'm also the commandant for the NCO [non-commissioned officer] course to develop NCOs in Ethiopia and Djibouti and to write the curriculum for the school.
What is the mil-to-mil training? It's up to the country to ask what type of training they need. It ends up being the basic survival skills you need as a soldier. Examples are first aid, land navigation and how to use a lensatic compass (military field compass
How would you evaluate the trainees? First I would say they are very intelligent. The biggest problem we have is the language barrier. One of the ways I make it easier for them to understand the curriculum is I made a book for them where everything was translated. I made the translator rehearse with me. It's hard for him to give it if he doesn't understand it himself. I talked in front of the class, they were catching 85 percent of it and they had the book in front of them plus the translator was pretty knowledgeable. If they wanted to take something home with them, they could study in Amharic, the language in Ethiopia.
How are you received? At first they're very afraid of us; we're standing there with weapons, sunglasses. After they got to know us, they came to be friends. A little boy named George got hurt a long time ago (near Camp Hurso, Ethiopia). They knew a medic, Sgt. Rios in A company so they went to the camp gate and said, "Can you treat my son?" They treated him, took care of him. That kid still comes to camp, wants to play volleyball, softball with the guys. You go to Hurso, they ask, "Who's this kid?" And the mother stops by and cooks something for them.
The impact is that these guys are making a significant difference. On the Army side, I know we are.
Talk about the threat and need for force protection in Africa? Since I've been here, they've never had to use their weapons in Africa and that's a good thing. The threat is always there, nobody knows where these pockets of extremists are and where they're operating.
Bad people are everywhere; some are not extremist but criminal. In a country where they're making $800 to $900 dollars a year, it's bound to breed some criminal elements, too.
What's your take-away from your deployment to Africa? I truly believe that they are more than prepared to face the challenge of the future in the countries of Africa. They have some very professional armies out here.
I have soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. I think our soldiers truly believe what they're doing is right. We don't like war; we hate war. But the bottom line is this is what our country needs us to do and we're going to do it.
The Tribune arranges these interviews with service members through U.S. Central Command. MyLinh Shattan can be reached at email@example.com.