An average week for Jamaica Plain resident Caleb Weiss might include training the Ugandan military in logistics, or teaching African law enforcement to recognize ships that have been hijacked by pirates.
Such is the life of a Marine on deployment.
“‘Remain flexible’—that is our mantra,” Weiss told the Gazette in a phone call from Italy.
Weiss is a captain in the Marine Corps’ Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa 13, serving as its operations officer, the unit’s third in command. His unit is based out of Naval Air Station Sigonella, in Sicily, Italy, though the unit’s members mostly ship out for assignments in Africa.
The 150 Marines and sailors in Weiss’s unit are on a six-month deployment to train various African nations’ militaries in a host of activities: logistics (how to keep a unit fed, clothed, sheltered and moving), non-lethal weapons, counterterrorism, leadership, communications and maritime security, among others.
“I expected challenges to involve distance between locations and the base. The farther an element is from base, the harder it is to coordinate activities,” Weiss said. “But after arrival, I realized that the difficulty can be coordinating a detailed set of instructions for detailed training. It’s a long chain, going from the host country, to the [United Nations], to U.S. command, to us.”
Right now, there are units in Uganda, Burundi, Senegal and the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya. Each U.S. unit is prepared for expected conditions and existing levels of training, but that doesn’t always line up with reality.
Weiss recounted an example where a U.S. team was sent to Cameroon to train its military in non-lethal weapons and tactics, which include anti-riot equipment and formations.
“We sent a small team of four Marines, but when they got there, their students had already received a certain level of training,” Weiss said. “It’s like expecting a level one class, but finding out the students were already at level two or three.”
The Marines adjusted their curriculum on the fly, ramping up the level of training.
“At the end of the day, we need to engage the host nations on their terms, not ours,” Weiss said.
A good for Weiss means that all of his unit’s training objectives have been met. It is part of his job, he said, to not have bad days.
“We get reports back from teams all over the continent. They all state whether our [African] counterparts were satisfied with their training,” he explained. “Our job is to be prepared for any bad day. What others consider a bad day, we consider an opportunity. If there is a crisis that requires our support, we have the training, we’re qualified to execute that mission.”
Weiss is not a career Marine. He is a reservist who volunteered for the deployment right after finishing graduate school. But after seven years of duty and five deployments, he’s looking forward to coming home to JP in July, finding a civilian job, and seeing friends, family and his partner.
“And getting a coffee at City Feed,” he said. “My significant other was offered a job in Boston, so we decided to leave New York City and plant a stake in JP…I’m well-versed with the distance game, but it doesn’t get any easier.”