By Maj. Brent Mangum
19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Utah Army National Guard
Paratroopers from the 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Utah National Guard, and the Royal Moroccan Army received foreign jump wings during a wing exchange ceremony at Agadir, Morocco, June 27, 2022.
The paratroopers previously jumped into the Grier Labouihi training complex on June 19, 2022. The jump – as an airborne operation is known – was part of African Lion 22, which is being led by U.S. Army Southern European Task Force—Africa and is U.S. Africa Command's largest, premier, joint, combined annual exercise. This year’s exercise is being hosted by Morocco, Ghana, Senegal, and Tunisia, from June 6 - 30. More than 7,500 participants from 28 nations and NATO are training together with a focus on enhancing readiness for U.S. and partner nation forces. The overall scenario pits a combined joint task force against a fictional, division-sized, near-peer opposing force.
“It was a great opportunity to share paratrooper knowledge and Moroccan SOF experience with the American Special Forces. They are great teachers,” said a Moroccan Special Forces Soldier at the wing exchange ceremony. Commenting on training he has been conducting with U.S. Army Green Berets, he added, “I jumped the night jump for special reconnaissance to get information for the infill group and you could feel how important it was to get it right, to facilitate the success of the infill group.”
U.S. Soldiers are allowed to wear one foreign badge on their formal dress uniforms, so jumping from a Moroccan C-130 with their Moroccan and Tunisian counterparts and earning foreign wings is a special and rare opportunity for many of these Soldiers. After the ceremony, Soldiers from both nations traded patches, snapped pictures, and exchanged other small gifts.
“Training in a combined environment is very hard to reproduce. So, having the opportunity to join with our Moroccan and other friends is well worth the time and effort. Having done this exercise several times, including last year, we continue to see this exercise as critical to building our tactical and operational skills, including mission command through our Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, and static line and free fall airborne operations,” said Col. Paul Peters, commander of the 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
The National Guard in each U.S. state 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 SPP is expanding to military-to-civilian and civilian-to-civilian interactions that will support the whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to U.S. security cooperation.
Morocco was one of the first countries to recognize the newly independent United States when Sultan Mohammed III, in 1777, opened Morocco’s ports to American ships. Soon thereafter, 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 2003, Utah and Morocco established a State Partnership, a relationship that has blossomed into a mature strategic partnership. In 2004, the United States designated Morocco a Major Non-NATO Ally. Along with the thousands of active-duty U.S. troops that train in Morocco every year are hundreds of Utah’s service members.
“I would like to thank the brotherly and friendly countries that are participating with us this year,” said Royal Armed Forces Lt. Gen. Belkhir El-Farouk. “Whether as actors or observers, this experience is further enhanced through the diversity of partners and the vast array of contributions.”
Utah’s National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have been training primarily in and around the Moroccan cities of Agadir, Guelmim, Ben Guerir, Taliouine, Tantan, and Tifnit. Utah’s participating units include Soldiers from the 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment, Medical Readiness Detachment, and the 300th Military Intelligence Brigade. Participating Airmen come from the 151st Air Refueling Wing.
“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 Africa Lion 22 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.”
AL22 is a joint, all-domain, multi-component, and multinational exercise, employing a full array of mission capabilities with the goal of strengthening interoperability among participants and setting the theater for strategic access. AL22 exercises include a combined joint task force command post exercise, combined special operations training, combined arms live fire exercises, maritime exercises, an air exercise including bomber aircraft, a field training exercise, a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear response exercise, and humanitarian civic assistance activities.
Exercises like AL22 build strategic relationships and strengthen partner nations while supporting U.S. military strategic readiness response to crises and contingencies in Africa and around the world.
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