By Army Staff Sgt. Keith Anderson, 25th Infantry Division
ROCKHAMPTON, Australia -- On the 100th anniversary of WWI’s Battle of Hamel, when U.S. and Australian forces first fought side by side against German forces in Le Hamel, France, the longtime partners once again joined forces, this time for Exercise Hamel at Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area in central Queensland, Australia, from June 18–July 1.
Indiana Army National Guardsmen traveled nearly 9,000 miles to join their Australian counterparts for the exercise, which saw U.S. forces integrated into the Australian Battle Group to enhance tactical and sustainment interoperability with allied partners.
“It was truly an honor to be able to integrate into one of our coalition partner’s headquarters,” said U.S. Army Col. Robert Burke, the commander of the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. “We were able to conduct a very challenging and worthwhile command post and field training exercise, outside the United States, and achieve a higher level of readiness than I anticipated while creating great relationships with the Australians during an historic time in our shared military history.”
More than 6,000 Australian soldiers and nearly 800 U.S. military personnel participated in the training. Hamel is an Australian Army field training exercise that serves as the Army’s culminating event in the unit train-up/certification process before transitioning to a ready brigade.
Indiana Army National Guardsmen from the 1st Battalion, 293rd Infantry Regiment, joined up with Australian soldiers from 7th Brigade at the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area and moved through a series of battles and engagements to certify the Australian brigade for deployment and to fulfill the annual training requirement of the Indiana Army National Guard battalion.
Additional U.S. participation included soldiers from the 10th Regional Support Group, based at Okinawa, Japan; U.S. Marines from the III Marine Expeditionary Regiment, also based in Okinawa; U.S. Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 5th Marine Regiment, based at Camp Pendleton, California; and exercise support from U.S. Army Pacific and the 25th Infantry Division, both based in Hawaii.
“We’ve had a number of great scenarios involved, from non-combatant evacuation operations to an amphibious tactical lodgement [landing], population security operations and also more high-end joint land combat, so on all accounts, it’s been a fantastic get-out for our ADF,” said Australian Brig. Gen. Ben James, the director general for training and doctrine.
Australian soldiers began operations with an amphibious landing before facing a wide variety of challenges, from complex urban operations to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive response and large-scale combined arms battles, with their U.S. counterparts.
U.S. Marines from Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, assaulted an enemy-held urban complex in predawn darkness, followed by Australian soldiers from the 6th Royal Australian Regiment and U.S. soldiers from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 293rd Infantry Regiment.
“They needed to clear a village with a mixture of insurgent forces, conventional forces and a significant number of civilians,” said Australian Army Capt. Tom Patterson, who served as an observer and trainer for the battle.
The scenario required infantry, tanks, military police and police dogs, engineers, air support, explosive ordinance disposal and other forces and considerations, Patterson said. It challenged soldiers in scenarios learned from real-world battles in urban areas where it is often not clear who is a fighter and who is a civilian, who is a friend and who is a foe.
The 1st Battalion, 293rd Infantry Regiment soldiers guarded critical artillery and logistical positions, cleared routes and performed area reconnaissance, secured enemy prisoners of war, and served as the Australian brigade’s reserve force as the 7th Brigade pushed westward through the 1,754-square mile training area.
In the final battle of the exercise, as Australian and U.S. forces took on a near-peer adversary played by the 3rd Brigade, Australian Army elements captured a critical airfield in a large-scale combined arms battle with tanks, dismounted infantry, air support, artillery and unmanned aerial vehicles.
“We supported the tango call signs -- the tanks -- as the infantry attachment clearing the route providing blocks and clearances of vulnerable points,” said Australian Army Cpl. Daniel Petterson, 6th Royal Australian Regiment. “We culminated in a large, complex assault and a hybrid attack.”
The exercise also allowed Australian military planners to test new equipment and capabilities.
The forces utilized the Australian Air Force’s C-27J Spartan, the LAND 121 protected mobility vehicle, three separate digitized logistics common operating picture systems, vehicle camera systems, a fuel distribution and monitoring system, an automated base refueling point, an expeditionary fuel installation system for aviation and a programmable or manual-control precision aerial delivery system.
“Because Hamel simulates a tactical operation it gives us the best test bed to modernize, to refine our tactics, techniques and procedures, and apply the best outcome in our area of operations for the Australian Defense Force,” said Australian Army Maj. Samuel Luke, the operations officer for the 9th Force Support Battalion, 17th Brigade.
Exercise Hamel was successful in more than just certifying 7th Brigade for deployment and fulfilling the training requirements of the Indiana Army National Guard, James said.
“We’ve broken new ground in a whole range of areas,” he said. “For the first time, we’ve had a rotating ground combat element, that is, the land element that’s embarked onboard our new Navy amphibious ships, so we’ve broken new ground there. It’s the first time the [Australian] Army’s worked alongside the [Australian] Air Force’s new C-27J Spartan aircraft, which has been fantastic. And also, there are a number of trials on our unmanned aerial systems in the training area as well, so in a whole range of areas -- new trials, new capabilities and new doctrine -- it’s been really exciting.”