At the center of a recent Middle East exercise that saw the U.S. partner with 28 other nations for theater movement on land, air, sea and simulated cyber and electronic warfare threats, soldiers with the 4th Infantry Division put steel on target and practiced urban attacks with Jordanian counterparts.
The large-scale exercise builds capacity of other nations, working through field training, live fires and command post exercises with European NATO members and Middle East partners, said Maj. Gen. David Hill, deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Central Command.
It was all part of Eager Lion, a Jordan-based exercise that’s been running annually since at least the 1990s, when it was called Infinite Moonlight. The first officially titled Eager Lion exercise was bilateral, with the United States and Jordan, took place in 2011.
It is the largest military exercise in the Middle East and has weathered even the war in neighboring Syria, early unrest in Egypt, Bahrain and ongoing war in Yemen as partner nations commit resources to the joint exercise.
An estimated 8,000 individuals participated in the event, according to Army officials. The 4th ID soldiers are on rotation in the area.
Hill noted simply moving forces across the region in this way helps coordinate core competencies for strategic movement, going beyond what’s been the norm for the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The joint exercise wasn’t only Army. U.S. Navy ships, Air Force planes, Marines and Special Operations Forces also participated in the exercise Aug. 25 to Sept. 5.
“This is why partnerships matter,” said Col. Fridrik Fridriksson, commanding officer, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “Eager Lion allowed us the opportunity to maintain ready and responsive forces while working with our partners in the region. Together, we are prepared and trained to address unpredictable adversaries.”
Those Navy and Marine Corps forces included a landing from the USS Boxer and Marines with India Company, Battalion Landing Team 3/5, 11th MEU pushing Marines ashore in amphibious assault vehicles.
The South Carolina National Guard contributed soldiers to run the combined forces headquarters and higher control supporting the exercise from Amman, Jordan while the joint and partner forces defended against a simulated Jordanian border attack.
Army Lt. Col. John Kluck told Army Times in the midst of the exercise that the 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team took an organic company, two tank infantry teams, an artillery battery and one engineer platoon with a slice of their headquarters across the region for the training.
His battalion is with the 3rd ABCT, the Army’s current rotational force to CENTCOM and part of the nine-month deployment that covers Operation Spartan Shield. As part of that, various elements of the BCT conduct a number of training exercises along with real world missions.
Prior to Eager Lion, Kluck said, some of his soldiers were providing security forces throughout the theater, working as reaction forces for contingency operations, and sections of the brigade had done partner training with Kuwaiti armor units and joint training with others in Bahrain.
“My task force, we’re really the land coalition live fire portion,” he said. They conducted two culminating events that included a live fire and a situational training scenario with both Jordanian and Qatari forces in an urban training village.”
The Jordanians provided a quick reaction force and air assault to establish a foothold in the complex. Then their military police-like force secured the area. After they got a foothold, dismounted infantry with Bradleys and Armored Personnel Carriers conducted the assault.
“Really it is pretty outstanding training,” Kluck said. “The range has very few limitations.”
They were able to fire the Bradley main gun, Javelin missile and do trench dismounted clearing.
That gave the estimated 450 soldiers and other task force participants a company-level combined arms live fire training with artillery before they moved on to another facility for battalion level fires.
That, Kluck said, provided soldiers with a chance to see what their coalition partners can bring to the fight, what their capabilities are and how they fit.
Following Eager Lion, the task force returned to Kuwait to continue their rotation.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.