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By Maj. Brent Mangum, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
Utah Army National Guard
Approximately 60 Soldiers from the 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment, Utah Army National Guard, landed at the Agadir Al-Massira International Airport, Morocco, June 20.
Soldiers from the 1-211th ARBn arrived on a C-5 Galaxy after having flown out of Travis AFB, California, the day prior. Accompanying them on this massive aircraft were four of their “folded up” AH-64Ds, more commonly known as Apache helicopters. The AH-64D is a two-seater, attack and reconnaissance helicopter armed with a 30mm M230 chain gun. It also has the option of carrying air-to-ground Hellfire missiles or Hydra 70 mm rocket pods.
The 1-211th’s “Air Pirates” will be in Morocco for about two weeks as part of African Lion 2022, U.S. Africa Command's largest, premier, joint, annual exercise hosted by Morocco, Ghana, Senegal, and Tunisia. More than 7,500 participants from 28 nations and NATO will train together with a focus on enhancing readiness for U.S. and partner nation forces. Training includes joint, all-domain, multi-component, and multinational missions with the goal of strengthening interoperability among participants and setting the theater for strategic access.
“Multinational exercises like African Lion allow the Utah National Guard’s State Partnership Program to continue to build and enhance professional relationships while supporting interoperability of forces,” said Maj. Gen. Michael J. Turley, adjutant general, Utah National Guard. “They also allow both parties to further develop tactics, techniques, and procedures together, and advance the capabilities of all participants.” The Utah/Morocco SPP was established in 2003 and has blossomed into a mature strategic partnership.
As soon as the 1-211th‘s Soldiers processed through immigration, they went back to the C-5 and began rolling out and staging their helicopters.
“I’m excited to be out here and I look forward to getting out to the FARP [Forward Air Refueling Point]. It’s fun to get away from the civilian world, be with the guys – my friends – and not have to worry about school for a few days,” said Sgt. Sheldon Laney. When asked what he’ll be doing as part of the exercise, Laney said “I’ll be the ‘pad dad,’ which means I’ll be running the FARP.”
As pad dad, he’ll be overseeing FARP operations which include rearming and refueling the AH-64Ds and troubleshooting any minor, quick-fix issues.
Throughout the next two weeks, the 1-211th will be conducting combined training with Moroccan aviation assets and with U.S. and Moroccan Special Operations Forces (SOF), using Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) and the Apache’s own targeting systems in multiple dry-run and live-fire exercises.
“We’ve deployed with our birds before, but not to participate in a SPP, like the one we have with Morocco, so this is something completely new for us. Preparing and training for this has been a great experience,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mike Zesiger. “Plus, we’ll be training here in a multinational environment, showcasing the aircraft’s interoperability with other aviation platforms and working with multinational SOF JTACs.”
The 1-211th will be working near Guelmim, Morocco, but they will be training in multiple other locations including Tifnit, Tantan, and the Grier Labouihi training complex.
Maj. Tait Larson said that he’s been to Morocco a few times over the last two years preparing for this exercise by providing briefs on the AH-64D’s capabilities, interoperability, and its logistics and maintenance requirements. As part of the Utah/Morocco SPP, he said that Utah has also hosted Moroccan pilots, taking them on Apache familiarization rides out in Utah’s training ranges.
The National Guard in each state in the United States has a State Partnership Program with one or more foreign partners. The overarching goal is support of U.S. government objectives in country and within the region using a variety of military-to-military engagements. The Utah/Morocco SPP has expanded to military-to-civilian and civilian-to-civilian interactions that support the whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to U.S. security cooperation. Focus areas that support strategic lines of effort and the National Guard’s objectives are: Combined-arms capabilities (including Moroccan Special Operation Forces, Apache AH-64, artillery, and F-16 refueling interoperability), humanitarian demining (HMA/EOD); emergency medicine; disaster response; noncommissioned officer NCO development; and youth exchanges. These partnerships build strategic relationships in personal bonds and enduring trust.
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