KING ABDULLAH SPECIAL OPERATIONS TASK CENTER, Jordan –
One by one, parachutes pop open, silhouetted in the Jordanian sunset as joint nation special operations forces float toward the desert terrain below—completing a military free fall from 18,000 feet out of a U.S. Air Force C-130H Hercules.
Despite language barriers and differences in tactics, techniques and procedures, joint SOF teams from U.S., Jordan and Italy persevered and completed successful training missions, from recovering a missing service member behind enemy lines to landing an aircraft in a desert lake bed– all in the name of interoperability and global security during Eager Lion 2017.
"Each piece of puzzle serves a specific purpose within each mission and this served as an opportunity for us to share best practices and build on prior experience," said Lt. Col. Rodger Jennrich, commander of the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron and Special Operations Task Force CEDAR during EL17. "These efforts make us stronger as a ground scheme of maneuver operating as a special operations task force."
U.S. Air Force Special Tactics Airmen with the 23rd STS, Jordan's 101st Special Operations Battalion and Italy's 17th Stormo Incursori special operations forces have been training together to do comprehensive mission sets since the exercise's start on March 7.
During the exercise, SOTF CEDAR's joint special operations teams were organized by troops of Special Tactics' core mission sets: personnel recovery, precision strike and global access. Throughout the exercise, each troop specifically trained with their partner forces on those capabilities, from ground assault in urban terrain to controlling aircraft landings in the desert.
"This has been a great experience," said Jordanian Capt. Ali A. Al'Ajarmah, company commander of the Jordanian 101st SOB. "We learn from each other; each piece works together until the job is complete, and we become a team."
Eager Lion 2017 is an annual U.S. Central Command exercise in Jordan designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships between the U.S., Jordan and other international partners.
"Eager Lion is a reoccurring opportunity for Special Tactics to exercise and train toward building joint leaders and develop relationships with foreign partner special operation force elements," said Jennrich. "During this exercise, we have increased our interoperability and combined like-minded forces to enhance our capabilities."
Throughout the exercise, the Global Access Team within SOTF CEDAR trained to provide strategic access for U.S. and allied nations—access that allows those forces to assault, maneuver and project power from critical locations.
For example, in their final event, the Global Access Team surveyed, established and ran a dry lake bed as an ‘airfield,’ controlling a C-130H Hercules landing-- then boarded the aircraft to freefall into their objective. In real-world operations, this military freefall infiltration technique might be the start of a personnel recovery or reconnaissance mission.
"During the exercise, we were able to integrate the teams into a working relationship," said a Special Tactics operator who leads the global access team. "The end state was partner-nation building, and we got to that point -- we were able to function as a team comfortably. We had successes with the team and some failures as a team, but each failure stands as a learning point and we build upon that."
The Personnel Recovery Team trained for mass casualty, confined space, and high angle-rescue missions. Special Tactics teams train to lead and conduct personnel recovery missions, from rapid mission planning to technical rescue, treatment and exfiltration.
With in-depth medical and rescue expertise, along with their deployment capabilities, PR teams are able to perform rescue missions in the world's most remote areas.
"Completely integrating each nation into the teams allowed us to exchange best practices in our standard operating procedures," said a Special Tactics officer on the PR team. "We pressed each other pretty hard; if we do work together later on, this built the foundation to run operations smoothly and know each other well enough to understand our limitations."
Lastly, the Precision Strike Team trained for close quarters battles within a realistic urban compound. Besides sharpening their ground movement skills, they also controlled air strikes from Royal Jordanian Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons and U.S. Army AH-6 Littlebirds, requiring both air and ground parties to precisely identify and eliminate targets.
Special Tactics Airmen are highly-trained in integrating air and ground domains—specifically, kinetic and non-kinetic precision strike, or coordinating from the ground with aircraft to drop accurate munitions as well as deliver humanitarian aid bundles.
"We were very impressed with the Jordanian Air Force during the call-for-fires -- they did everything by the book and on par with what's expected on a battlefield," said a Special Tactics officer on the Precision Strike Team. "On the ground, we were able to enhance each other tactics, techniques and procedures and synchronize our efforts and training bilaterally -- which was a definite success."
As Eager Lion 2017 comes to a close, joint nation partners return home with a renewed sense of understanding and a shared experience of each other's mission.
"I wish to have another chance to train with everyone again and only get better," Al'Ajarmah said. "We were three different units, and we have now become one team."