Exercise Eager Lion 2014 recently ended and it reminded me of how fortunate I was to participate in Exercise Eager Lion 2013 while apart of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group. I saw firsthand the incredible partnership between the Jordanian military, U.S. military and other participating nations. Everyone had something they could add to the exercise that could benefit other nations. I asked Brig. Gen. Gregg P. Olson, commander, Task Force 51/59, deputy commander, U.S. Marine Forces Command to describe his overall impression of Exercise Eager Lion 2014 and what it meant to be a part of such a large exercise.
I just returned from Exercise Eager Lion 2014 as Commander, Task Force 51. The exercise provided us a superb opportunity to work alongside regional partners; we trained side-by-side, shared best practices and made some new friends. Our shared experiences have helped us better understand our collective ability to respond to crisis in the region.
Exercise Eager Lion is a recurring, multinational exercise. This year, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan hosted more than twenty nations in support of common objectives. We all worked together to strengthen our military-to-military relationships, increase our interoperability and find ways we can complement each other in the cause of regional security and stability.
A few days prior to the start of Eager Lion 2014, the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and the embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (ARG/MEU) arrived in the Port of Aqaba to set-up beach operations to facilitate command and control activities during the exercise. Aqaba is on the Gulf of Aqaba at the northern end of the Red Sea, where the Jordan River empties into the ocean. From the port, we could look west across the Red Sea into Egypt, look north to Israel and southward to Saudi Arabia.
Our work, however, took place in and around the Royal Jordanian Naval Base, where Landing Craft, Air Cushion (LCACs) from the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) and Landing Craft, Utility (LCUs) from the USS Gunston Hall put gear and Marines ashore in preparation for the exercise. There was an esprit de corps in the air. Jordanian patrol boats and US craft escorted the ships into the pier; Seabees and Sailors from NAVCENT’s Task Force 56 helped prepare the base for our arrival; Marines and Sailors from the ships offloaded tanks, trucks and equipment in a flurry of activity. While this was not an amphibious landing, it was a great opportunity to demonstrate the inherent flexibility of our amphibious forces. (http://www.dvidshub.net/image/1376372/eager-lion-2014-sailor-conducts-tank-offload)
The atmosphere at the Base was one of anticipation; we all knew Eager Lion 2014 was about to begin. We’d been waiting for the opportunity to train in the field in a series of realistic, live fire scenarios as part of the Joint force and the offload was the first step. We were able to take full advantage of the capabilities of our Royal Jordanian Navy partners; together, we got the ships safely offloaded and the equipment en route to its exercise location a couple hours to the north.
As part of this year’s exercise, 1st Marine Logistics Group and I Marine Expeditionary Force exercised the Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF). (http://www.1stmlg.marines.mil/News/tabid/8620/Article/165250/marines-conduct-maritime-prepositioning-force-offload-during-exercise-eager-lio.aspx) The USNS 1ST Lt. Baldomero Lopez (T-AK 3010) offloaded 300 pieces of equipment in about 16 hours using the “roll on-roll off” ramp that is part of the ship. Lopez, one of four Large Medium-Speed Roll-On/Roll-Off (LMSR) ships, provides an immense amount of stowage space for large equipment; our offload barely tapped into the ship’s capabilities. In a crisis, we could get food, fuel, water-making capability and ammunition in addition to vehicles from the MPF. The vehicles road marched to an arrival and assembly area where they were inspected and prepared for simulated “combat operations.” As Eager Lion wound down, we cleaned the vehicles and reloaded them aboard Lopez; she sailed back to her prepositioning location with a full complement of equipment.
While Lopez was offloading, USS Gunston Hall, a Dock Landing Ship, supported at-sea portions of Eager Lion. She trained in company with combined naval forces in simulated damage control operations and visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) procedures. The Gunston Hall, one of the three ships of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), hosted Naval commanders and staff officers from our exercise partners for planning sessions, interoperability demonstrations and other maritime activities. Bringing partners together at sea was one of the great parts of Eager Lion; this year was one of the most rewarding years we’ve had with maritime events.
U.S. Marines and Sailors from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit provided the American contingent of the ground combat force for this year’s exercise. Elements of Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment—part of the fabled Marine Regiment whose history includes participation in the Battle of Belleau Wood, where Marines are said to have earned the moniker “Devil Dogs”—joined with the Royal Jordanian Armed Force’s Prince Talal 5th Mechanized Infantry Battalion and British Royal Marines from 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group at a field training location. The ground forces, supported by a detachment from Combat Logistics Battalion 22, the MEU’s logistics combat element, conducted dismounted infantry attacks, tank and mechanized vehicle operations, live fire and maneuver training and indirect fire interoperability sessions with our Jordanian partners. For a week and a half, the combined land forces made the ranges of the Jebel Petra training area rumble with the noise of tanks, assault amphibian vehicles and live rounds of all calibers. (http://www.dvidshub.net/image/1386341/eager-lion-2014) The training culminated in a live-fire U.S., Jordanian, and British units combined attack on June 5. (http://www.marcent.marines.mil/Photos.aspx?igphoto=2000801217)
Dignitaries from Jordan and senior military leaders from across the exercise force got to see this capstone event, where aircraft, helicopters and ground forces demonstrated the results of nearly two weeks of hard training. The live fire attack, which combined sound tactics with stunning visuals of tanks, attack helicopters, close air support and artillery working in concert with ground maneuver, was a fitting end to the ground forces’ hard work. (http://www.dvidshub.net/image/1386068/eager-lion-2014-land-force-commanders-discuss-major-live-fire-exercise)
The partnerships did not end on the range, however. The forces returned to their bivouac area and got their gear cleaned; what happened the next evening was truly indicative of how close we’d come with our exercise partners over the course of two weeks. Warriors from across the exercise force gathered together for a traditional Jordanian meal; combined teams competed in feats of strength, danced traditional Jordanian dances and shared the natural camaraderie that builds when like-minded militaries work closely together. As a starry night fell over the desert in Jebel Petra, it was clear Eager Lion had been a success.
Eager Lion is one of many exercises we conduct in the region; their purposes vary, but all include the goal of building and demonstrating interoperability between partner nations. In a coordinated effort, CTF 51 and its subordinate forces helped enable a true coordinated effort between multinational partners. This year’s Eager Lion was certainly complex; we were able to showcase the level of sophistication we’ve achieved in concert with our partner nations. It was a pleasure to work alongside such professionals as we worked, together, to demonstrate our commitment to our collective efforts on behalf of regional security.
Now that this year’s Eager Lion has wrapped up, we’re on to our preparations for the next opportunities this exciting theater affords. We had a great exercise, but what was best was that we concluding it safely, with all our goals met—and we did so in a spirit of cooperation that provided a valuable experience for all the participants. I encourage you to check out coverage of Eager Lion events at the following links: