AQABA, Jordan -- The Gulf of Aqaba was busy again as ships from the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group shared the water and parked pier-side at the Royal Jordanian Naval Base May 28 to June 5.
Although the area around Aqaba is plush with sandy beaches, picturesque sunsets and some of the world’s greatest scuba diving, the USS Iwo Jima, New York and Gunston Hall were not here to pick up tourists. They were here to embark approximately 1,000 Marines of the 2,300-strong 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which assembled at the port after a month of austere living conditions in the Kingdom of Jordan’s interior desert region during Exercise Eager Lion 12.
The 24th MEU arrived in Jordan the first week of May to participate in Eager Lion, the largest exercise in the U.S. Central Command area of operations and worked with a number of nation’s militaries throughout Jordan. The exercise focused on irregular-warfare-themed events designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships of over 19 participating nations and 11,000 personnel.
“Theater security events like Eager Lion give us a chance to get off the ship and use some training space, but more importantly it’s a chance to partner with a nation and share capabilities,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Adams, the executive officer of the 24th MEU. “Jordan is definitely one of our strongest allies in the region so, from that perspective, it’s certainly important to continue to build ties.”
Media headlines around the world continually attempted to tie the exercise to real-world events throughout the Middle East region, focusing on American strategic implications even though the exercise has been in the planning process for three years.
But the 24th MEU Marines concerned themselves with two things; realistic training and strengthening partnerships.
“The Jordanians were great to the Marines. They sat down together during breaks, drank chai with them, and traded stuff back and forth. They actually taught the Marines a lot of Arabic and had good times,” said Staff Sgt. Derek Brossman, the 24th MEU Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense chief. “My Marines have no qualms about working with Jordanians at any given time.”
Indeed, this is a large part of the mission of the North Carolina-based 24th MEU, currently on a scheduled eight-month deployment throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. They travel the world’s seaways as a theater reserve and crisis response force, capable of a wide array of missions from full-scale combat operations to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
And they can do it all in the same day.
True to form, the Marines took part in a vast range of events during Eager Lion. Some of the first bilateral training, as early as May 8, involved U.S. and Jordanian snipers and reconnaissance Marines firing suppressed rifles and .45 caliber pistols side-by-side. In another scenario, the 24th MEU’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear response team worked hand-in-hand with Jordanian incident response forces during a chemical spill scenario. And one of the MEU’s final missions consisted of evacuating personnel during a simulated noncombatant evacuation operation.
But the Marines didn’t forget to bring plenty of conventional firepower to Jordan as well. The sounds of machine guns, tanks and artillery rattled the earth in the training area around Jabal Petra throughout the month, where Jordanians and Marines from the 24th MEU’s ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, teamed with several different nations including Lebanon, Italy and Saudi Arabia.
“On several occasions, we sent Marines from the battery over to the Jordan artillery unit to cross-train with them,” said 1st Lt. Sean Sullivan, the executive officer of India Battery, BLT 1/2, the artillery attachment from 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment. “The Marines enjoyed working with another military and different weapons than they’re used to. They traded patches and rank insignia and even attached a Jordanian and American flag to an expended mortar tail charge assembly and presented it to them as a gift.”
The MEU also showcased firepower from above as its air combat element from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261 (Reinforced) flew missions with MV-22 Ospreys, CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters, AH-1W Cobras and UH-1N Hueys. There were even partnered flights where Jordanian and Marine pilots flew next to each other in the skies above the Jordanian desert.
Another highlight of Eager Lion was a consequence management scenario, which not only consisted of Marines and Jordanians, but U.S. soldiers as well.
The purpose was for the Marines to learn how to use the Jordanians equipment, and vice-versa, so that both forces have a better chance at operability in potential future operations, explained Brossman.
As decision makers in the U.S. continue to highlight special operations capabilities, it is only fitting that those 24th MEU Marines designed for special missions were a significant part of the exercise.
Even at the BLT level, reconnaissance Marines used Eager Lion to maintain their own proficiency as well as partner with a new and upcoming reconnaissance unit from the Jordanian 77th Marine Battalion.
Reconnaissance Marines at the BLT level go forward of the unit and break down the battlefield, or area of operations, to send back information like enemy strengths, weaknesses and estimated firepower so that it can be turned into intelligence for the commander, explained Cpl. Jesse Kimble, a reconnaissance scout with BLT 1/2.
“With our Jordanian team, we covered basic equipment use, basic formations and patrols, security of patrols and observation posts. We also discussed hides – how to set them up and take pictures from them using various observation techniques,” he said.
The 24th MEU’s Maritime Raid Force, built around Force Reconnaissance Marines from 2nd Force Reconnaissance Battalion from Camp Lejeune, N.C., played a large role as well as they joined with Jordanians, Italians and Lebanese to talk sniper rifles, fast ropes, ship takedowns, ordnance disposal and even counterintelligence.
In fact, the MRF contains the assets to take on many of the same missions as other, perhaps better known, special operations forces operators from the Army and Navy. The difference is they do it specifically for a task force commander or in this case, the MEU commander, explained Staff Sgt. Zachary Burghart, an MRF team leader.
On top of that, having the 24th MEU and the Iwo Jima ARG nearby allows the Marines the necessary support to sustain indefinitely and provide a quick reaction force should the MRF need more fire in a fight.
Support from the sea and the ability to sustain itself ashore is not only essential to tactical operators like the MRF – it’s essential to any operation and may be the 24th MEU’s most unique capability of all.
While a MEU’s ground and air components are usually highlighted in events such as these, none of it could happen without the hundreds of men and women behind the scenes as part of Combat Logistics Battalion 24, the 24th MEU’s combat logistics element. These Marines, approximately 300 in all, spend most of their time just as tired, dirty and sweaty as any other, and while it’s sometimes easy to forget them, their efforts are not unnoticed by their fellow Marines and sailors in the 24th MEU.
Indeed, a simple list of statistics during Eager Lion proves the importance of this warfighting asset.
The CLB’s Motor Transport Platoon alone drove over 13,000 miles during the month-long exercise, transporting a total of 1,500 Marines and over 2.2 million pounds of cargo. Perhaps more amazing is that its engineer section produced all but a fraction of the entire 24th MEU’s water supply – 65,000 gallons worth! – using their own tactical water purifying equipment.
The 24th MEU commander, Col. Frank Donovan, explained these types of exercises as key to the future success of the MEU if called on to participate in a real-world crisis.
“Executing Eager Lion from the sea gave us the opportunity to maximize our ship-to-objective maneuver, employ expeditionary logistics, and learn from our partnered forces. Our Marines and sailors learned how to work alongside other nation’s militaries and how to fuse our efforts in support of coalition mission accomplishment. We sail better prepared for the missions ahead based on our time spent participating in Eager Lion,” said Donovan.
Eager Lion is currently described as a recurring exercise to increase interoperability and strengthen military-to-military relationships through a joint, whole-of-government, multinational approach to future complex national security challenges. It was the second such event for the 24th MEU who, partnered with the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, is currently deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of operations as a theater reserve and crisis response force.