By Maj. Brent Mangum
19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Utah Army National Guard
Approximately 90 U.S. Army Paratroopers and 15 Royal Moroccan Army Paratroopers participated in a combined airborne operation near Ben Guerir Airbase, Morocco, June 10, 2021.
Paratroopers from Utah’s 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), the Royal Moroccan Army’s Airborne Infantry Brigade (BIP) and Special Operations hopped on busses around 3:00 a.m. for a four hour-drive from Tifnit to Ben Guerir where they met up with two Chinook (CH-47) teams from the U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR). Paratroopers conducted both military free-fall and static line jumps.
Arriving at Ben Guerir Air Base, paratroopers from both countries donned their gear and then moved to Jumpmasters conducting mandatory Jumpmaster Personnel Inspections (JMPI) – a thorough inspection that verifies that every paratrooper is properly rigged and ready to exit the aircraft. Weather conditions met standards for airborne operations; temperatures on the drop zone reached 106 degrees Fahrenheit.
After the jump, Col. Maj. El Mouloudi El Orf, commander 2nd Parachute Infantry Brigade (BIP), invited Col. Paul Peters, commander of the 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne) to join him for lunch at his headquarters. Peters expressed his appreciation for Orf’s hospitality saying, “thank you for letting us use your air base and drop zone so we could improve our tactical operations together with your troops.” “You are always welcome here,” Orf generously responded. The two then discussed future plans for the base and other training opportunities between their units.
U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) regularly conduct Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) exercises in Morocco and in many other nations around the globe. The purpose of a JCET is to foster the training of U.S. SOF by training with partner-nation forces in their home countries. For U.S. Army Special Forces, or “Green Berets” as they are more commonly known, JCETs allow them to work on one of their critical skills: training indigenous forces. They also allow SOF to practice their language skills, increase cultural knowledge, and create meaningful relationships with partner nations.
On Monday, June 14, U.S. and Moroccan Paratroopers held an informal ceremony, exchanging coveted parachutist and military free fall wings with one another as is the tradition after a successful joint airborne operation.
U.S. Soldiers are allowed to wear one foreign badge on their formal dress uniforms, so conducting a combined jump and earning these wings was a special and rare opportunity for many of these Soldiers. After the ceremony, Soldiers from both nations snapped personal pictures, exchanged small gifts, and swapped badges and patches. It was a great way to celebrate the U.S. Army’s 246th birthday.
“I’ve got 40-50 jumps, but this was my first time riding in and jumping out of a CH-47,” said a Moroccan paratrooper from the 1st BIP. “I jumped with the 19th Group during a JCET back in 2014, so this wasn’t my first jump with Americans. I normally feel a little nervous, feel a little anxiety before jumping, but for some reason, on this jump, seeing my buddies mixed in with the Americans, I didn’t feel that normal nervousness. I was calm and excited.”
The National Guard in each state in the United States has a State Partnership Program with one or more foreign partners. Utah’s partnership is with Morocco, which was one of the first countries to recognize the newly independent United States, opening its ports to American ships by decree of Sultan Mohammed III in 1777. Morocco formally recognized the United States by signing a treaty of peace and friendship in 1786, a document that remains the longest unbroken relationship in U.S. history. In 2004, the United States designated Morocco a Major Non-NATO Ally. Hundreds of Utah’s service members are training in and around the Moroccan cities of Tifnit, Tantan, and Tafroute.
“The Utah National Guard State Partnership Program’s longstanding relationship with Morocco cultivates and promotes enduring relationships of trust and confidence with Morocco’s military while bolstering U.S. defense security goals,” said Maj. Gen. Michael J. Turley, adjutant general, Utah National Guard. “The objectives of events like African Lion 21 are to strengthen our bilateral partnerships, build and test our joint team strategic readiness, and to promote regional cooperation to strengthen the ability of African militaries to work together.”
Exercise African Lion 2021 is U.S. Africa Command's largest, premier, joint annual exercise hosted by Morocco, Tunisia, and Senegal, 7-18 June. The exercise offers an opportunity for U.S. forces to participate in a multinational exercise which enhances professional relationships and improves interoperability of U.S. and partner nation forces. The exercise bridges tactical to strategic and tests the application of modern capabilities and time-tested tactics, techniques, and procedures in multi-functional, multi-domain, and multinational environments while simultaneously stressing and improving servicemembers’ abilities to deploy, fight, and win with strategic advantage on modern-day battlefields, even in degraded environments.
More than 7,000 participants from nine nations and NATO are training together with a focus on enhancing readiness for U.S. and partner nation forces in support of U.S. National Defense Strategy.
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