By Air Force 1st Lt. Michelle Fletcher, 86th Airlift Wing
KENITRA AIR BASE, Morocco -- Exercise African Lion 2018 has concluded, and approximately 900 U.S. service members redeployed from Morocco and Tunisia.
During the exercise, The U.S. military and Moroccan Royal Armed Forces strengthened interoperability and further developed tactics, techniques and procedures of participating nations to counter violent extremist organizations.
The exercise involved various types of training across the Moroccan coastline, including an aviation training exercise supported by airmen from Ramstein Air Base in Germany and soldiers from the 5th Quartermaster Company from Kaiserslautern, Germany, and the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) from Vicenza, Italy.
“Ensuring familiarity with integration of operations and progressing mutual national interests is key to our worldwide capabilities and their effectiveness,” said Air Force Capt. Josh Kelsey, 37th Airlift Squadron pilot and African Lion 2018 deputy mission commander. “We’re working through the mechanics of integrating all of our operations so that if the time comes, we stand united against the threat.”
Throughout the two-week training exercise, service members conducted low-level mountain flying, aeromedical evacuation training, combat off-load and on-loads, 81 joint-personnel drops, 21 low-cost/low-altitude parachute drops, 19 dirt landings, 18 free-fall para-bundle drops and 12 emergency aircraft egress landings.
The team took on U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa’s first drop of the newly updated Joint Precision Airdrop System using an attached Modular Autonomous Guidance Unit to GPS-guide its cargo directly onto its target.
Aircrew dropped six bundles from a high altitude and all landed safely within meters of the desired target. This demonstrated the accuracy of the new system and a significant proof of concept for both the Army and the Air Force.
“It just showed the capability of our wing to start from scratch on a dirt field, survey, determine suitability and land a C-130J there,” said Air Force Capt. Laura K. Martineau, a pilot with the 37th, and African Lion 2018 mission commander.
Additionally, the Atlas Mountains presented the pilots with some great low-level performance challenges, Martineau explained. The higher the altitude, she said, the more difficult it is to quickly climb.
“Our training prepares us to ingress into a joint forcible entry-type situation and drop a considerable amount of personnel at once,” Martineau continued. “The Moroccans have also been observing procedures in-flight; it’s been incredible training for everyone involved.”
The U.S. Department of Defense recognizes Morocco’s role as a strong and stable partner in North Africa and Morocco’s contributions as part of coalition efforts to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
“When we have competent partners ready to aid in maintaining all of our freedoms, posturing against today’s security threats becomes exponentially easier,” Kelsey said. “It’s about building partnership capacity with cooperative nations.”
In this year’s iteration of African Lion, participating countries included Burkina Faso, Canada, Chad, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Spain, Tunisia and the U.K., in addition to the U.S. and Morocco.
“We’re making sure we are building relationships that last beyond our current stay here,” Kelsey said.