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Building Partnerships through Subject Matter Expert Exchange

By Lance Cpl. Kyle McNan 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade

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It was a scorching-hot blistering day as the temperature peeked over 105 degrees. Seated shoulder-to-shoulder inside an MV-22 tiltrotor aircraft, more than two dozen Marines prepared to offload into a landing zone in Saudi Arabia. 

U.S. Marines with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command, conducted a subject matter expert exchange with the Saudi Arabian Naval Special Forces from May 15-19, 2017. The event was to exchange military knowledge and tactics, but the result was something much more.

The U.S. Marines traveled on an MV-22 tiltrotor aircraft assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 364 from an undisclosed location in the Middle East to Saudi Arabia, where upon landing, tactically inserted into the zone to demonstrate their capabilities. From there, the U.S. Marines and Saudis kicked off the four-day event by exchanging their respective infantry tactics, including room-clearing and raid tactics. With small integrated groups, each nation cleared houses room-by-room. The groups were evaluated at the end of each simulated raid on their ability to work together.

“Getting the chance to train with the Saudi Arabian Special Forces is a great opportunity to get out and learn from a nation’s most elite fighters,” said Cpl. Brock Legant, a scout sniper assist team leader with 1/7. “It’s not every day you get to train with a foreign country, and I think this experience will not only help us refine our skills, but theirs as well.”

After the first day of training, the U.S. Marines and Saudi Special Forces started to look less like two separate entities and more like one well-oiled machine. Communication was a struggle at first, but it didn’t hinder the two countries sharing their knowledge, expertise, and military experiences. 

“Fortunately, the Saudi officer corps and most of their senior enlisted spoke English pretty well,” said Capt. Jonathan Walaski, the Weapons Company Commander for 1/7. “Between the more junior Marines and enlisted Saudis the language barrier was easy to breakdown over time, once they started working together. We share a fundamental knowledge on military training and tactics already, so it was just a matter of working together.” 

The final two days consisted of two full mission profile raids, one during the day and one at night. The raid missions consisted of three different integrated teams of 10-15 people, all converging on the same target in order to eliminate hostile forces and achieve the goal of recovering a hostage. The joint teams set up security and swept through a makeshift training village to locate and capture a predetermined target. Once the target was captured, the teams quickly withdrew from the village, using smoke grenades and suppressing fire, for extraction. 

At the end of the training, the U.S. Marines and Saudi Special Forces exchanged hats and coins baring their insignia to signify the exchange of knowledge and camaraderie. 

June 19, 2017 —
“It was amazing to hear them say how grateful they were to have us there,” said Cpl. Ian Miner, a scout sniper team leader attached to 1/7. “Having the time to sit down and talk with some of the Saudi’s about some of the things they’ve been through and hear how they fight against enemies living right outside their borders was just eye opening. I have so much respect for my new Saudi Arabian brothers.”