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Natural Fire

Exercise Natural Fire is a multinational military exercise focusing on humanitarian aid/disaster response with East African nations. Natural Fire was first held in Kenya in 1998, with US partnership. Since then, it has been held every 2 years in East Africa. In 2000, it grew to include Tanzania and Uganda, as well as the US and Kenya, a significant step for the East African Community (EAC) alliance. In 2006, Natural Fire expanded to include field training and humanitarian assistance. Since then, the exercise has grown to feature 5 partner states, with the addition of soldiers from Burundi. Originally directed by US Central Command (CENTCOM), with additional support from US European Command (EUCOM), the Exercise became the responsibility of US Africa Command (AFRICOM), after the command was established in 2008.

Military forces from the United States, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania conducted a joint-combined field training exercise known as Natural Fire 98 in East Africa between 6 and 26 June 1998. Exercise Natural Fire 98 was intended to improve regional security, military-to-military relations and interoperability between the participating nations.

The exercise included military training, but focused on humanitarian assistance to include Medical Civic Action Projects (MEDCAP), disaster relief training, peace operations training, and civil affairs orientation and planning. The Exercise represented an opportunity for US forces to provide humanitarian assistance and to improve the ability of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania to respond to and minimize the devastating effects of a disaster. About 500 US Military personnel were involved.

During 2000, Exercise Natural Fire (paired with Exercise Native Fury) was a joint and combined-ground fleet training exercise designed to test deployment of Military Sealift Command's Maritime Prepositioning Squadrons (MPSRON) to Kenya. The exercise focused on off-load, throughput, force stand up and subsequent regeneration of a MPSRON. A secondary mission was multilateral peace support operations with a civil affairs focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Military Sealift Command assets involved included MPSRON Two vessel MV Cpl. Louis J. Hauge and commercial sealift charters MV BBC Canada, MV Maersk Alaska and MV Arktis Pacific.

In August 2006, the United States military partnered with members of the EAC to deliver medical assistance and humanitarian aid as part of Natural Fire 2006, a 10-day multilateral military exercise. The Exercise was to be the first to be conducted between the United States and EAC since 2000, and focused on military-to-military coordination, crisis response training, and humanitarian aid delivery. Kenyan army Brigadier General Leonard Ngondi would command forces participating in the exercise, supported by a joint military staff comprised of Kenyan, Tanzanian, Ugandan, and US officers.

Unlike many military exercises, where forces simulate their response to a fictional scenario, Natural Fire 2006 not only would help the region improve its ability to respond to humanitarian crises, natural disasters, and other emergencies, but would also would help rural African communities in need. In joint operations across in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, approximately 1,000 military personnel would provide medical care for rural communities, veterinary assistance for village livestock, and engineering support to help area residents repair and rebuild damaged infrastructure.

In Soroti, Uganda, on 13 August 2006 some 40 US military medics worked with their counterparts from the Ugandan Peoples Defense Force to deliver medical care to 1,200 area residents. Meanwhile, US Marine Corps engineers from the 6th Engineering Support Battalion worked with the Ugandan Peoples Defense Force on multiple construction projects to renovate the local medical clinic, including structural repairs to the children's ward, the nurses and nuns residence, and the kitchen. In Nginyang, Kenya, on 16 August 2006, nearly 800 people from surrounding communities traveled for miles to receive medical treatment.

Soldiers from several East African nations flowed into Entebbe, Uganda starting on 12 October 2009 in anticipation of the 16 October 2009 kickoff of Exercise Natural Fire 10, a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise. The exercise was co-led by US Army Africa, a component of AFRICOM, and EAC Armed Forces. As part of the exercise, participants would respond to a simulated disaster scenario in Entebbe and Kampala. US Army Africa was invited by the Ugandan government to conduct the exercise there and all of the preparations were carried out in close coordination with officials from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania, as well as Uganda. Planned to support Department of State and US Agency for International Development objectives in Uganda and executed in concert with non-governmental organizations, the globally resourced, US Army Africa-led exercise took place in Uganda in October 2009. It focused on regional security and humanitarian and civic assistance using a disaster relief scenario. Major exercise objectives included increasing interoperability and strengthening the capability of approximately 650 troops from the East African partner states of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.

In addition, US military officials dismissed speculation that Natural Fire 10 was being held in preparation for a new offensive against the Lords Resistance Army (LRA). For more than two decades, the group terrorized Kitgum residents, one of the areas where the Exercise was to be held, and other communities in northern Uganda and elsewhere in the region, committing unspeakable atrocities, leading to speculation that the Exercise might be related to efforts to counter the influence of the LRA.

Approximately 1,150 military personnel from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United States would participate. The exercise would enhance the US and partner nations' capabilities to work together in response to complex humanitarian emergencies and would consist of a disaster-relief (pandemic influenza) training scenario, field training exercise, and humanitarian and civic assistance projects, to include medical, dental and engineering outreach programs. Natural Fire 10 would increase the understanding of each partner nations' capabilities and proficiencies, increasing their ability to operate together. The exercise had 3 major components: a tabletop exercise (TTX) among East African countries (members of the EAC) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Kampala; employment of a coalition joint task force (CJTF) headquarters in Entebbe; and a tactical element (Task Force Kitgum, a combined joint task force) to conduct medical, dental, and engineer activities, and train partner nation personnel in critical activities necessary to function collectively in disaster environments.

Though led by US Army Africa, Natural Fire 10 involved US personnel from other branches. Roughly 550 US personnel would take part in the exercise. To support the exercise a mobile command post was established at Entebbe airfield. A detachment of sailors from Maritime Civil Affairs Team 104, operating in support of Operation Enduring Freedom - Horn of Africa and assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa were sent to support the exercise.

However, the major contributing unit to the exercise was the 560th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, which served as the command headquarters of Task Force Kitgum, directing 1,009 personnel from the US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines; and soldiers from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. The mission of the 560th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade was to provide command and control for all joint and multinational forces in Kitgum, Uganda from 9 to 26 October 2009. The 560th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade conducted field training exercises, humanitarian civic assistance operations, and joint logistics support to synchronize operations and enhance the interoperability among participating forces. The Natural Fire 10 mission supported the premise that a battlefield surveillance brigade could be an enabler to stability operations and further reinforced the operational theme of employing a battlefield surveillance brigade for peacetime military engagement, although not simply for intelligence collection support. US Army Africa also used Natural Fire 10 to exercise its deployable command post, which was designed to provide command and control of small-scale contingency operations. Exercise Natural Fire 10, the largest joint and multinational exercise in Africa in 2009, tested this capability, and was a prime example of how US Army Africa was moving forward. Aviation support was provided by CH-47s from Company D, 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, an element of the 11th Aviation Command, part of the US Army Reserve and logistics support was provided by elements of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, US Army Europe (USAREUR).

Natural Fire 10 showed that persistent, habitual engagements allowed US Army and partner forces to develop trustworthy relationships over time. Natural Fire 10 also confirmed the necessity of working closely with US Embassy country teams and validated the need for country coordination elements. These elements give additional coordination capability to the senior defense official in the Embassy and provide a direct link to the country team. In times of crisis, country coordination elements provide a military planning capability that could enhance integrated planning at the country level.

The aim of Natural Fire 11, held between 11 and 22 September 2011 in Zanzibar, Tanzania, was to provide the participating countries with the skills to conduct peace support operations, humanitarian assistance, disaster response, counter terrorism, and counter piracy. The Exercise involved approximately 325 members of the armed forces of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United States.

Twenty-five members of the 5th Brigade, 75th Division from California participated in Natural Fire 11, a bilateral, multinational exercise held in Zanzibar, Tanzania. The 5th Brigade, 75th Division performed tasks including planning, operating, executing, and umpiring the command post exercise portion of Natural Fire 11. The 75th attended the final planning conference in May 2011, which was where the scripting was being finalized, what the Combined Joint Task Force would look like, and the support that would be provided for the exercise. The unit was also asked to assist with the formal After Action Review.




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