Since 1 August 2014, as part of the fight against armed jihadist groups, the French army has led Operation Barkhane in collaboration with the main Sahel-Saharan countries, including Mali, Niger and Chad. The armies carry out many missions like the intelligence, the air support of troops on the ground, the aid to the civilians and must face extreme heat throughout the year. A real physical challenge. Sport is a central element in the life of the 4,500 mobilized soldiers. It helps maintain performance and also relieve pressure.
Rotations of four months are set up on the various grounds of the Opex (external military operations). A two-week acclimatization period is mandatory during which all sports are prohibited. "It takes time for the body to adapt to the heat and weather conditions of the desert," says Sgt. Chief Jonathan, a sports instructor at the proposed Niamey Air Base in Niger. Then, it is necessary to adapt the schedules of the sessions: from 6h to 7h30 in the morning and from 17h30 in the evening. The goal is not the search for performance. Even if the physical preparation differs according to the specialties, the number one objective for all is the maintenance of the physical condition, essential to ensure the smooth running of the missions. And it's a challenge given the extreme heat.
During one week, in October 2018, I’ve been embedded with the French troops in the heart of the Barkhane operation the Sahel. We attended their training on the bases of Niamey in Niger as well as in Gao and Timbuktu in Mali. From the air-conditioned gym to the desert sand, the military must be able to adapt their practice to any environment. We were also able to follow men on a foot reconnaissance patrol in Gao City and experience the physical impact of their mission.