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U.S. and Moroccan troops wrap up exercise African Lion 2010

US Marine Corps News

By Maj. Paul Greenberg, Marine Forces Reserve

CAP DRAA TRAINING AREA, Morocco -- U.S. service members taking part in African Lion 2010 wrapped up their training here June 9 in a final combined arms exercise with the Royal Moroccan Army.

“African Lion in Morocco is very important for both the Marine Corps and the United States government. This is a strategic relationship with one of the United States’ oldest allies,” said Marine Corps Reserve Maj. Gordon Hilbun, assistant operations officer for Task Force African Lion. “This relationship maintains a strong collaborative training opportunity for both militaries and ensures that the Marine Corps maintains its expeditionary capabilities and mindset.

More than 1,000 Marines, sailors and U.S. Air and Army national guardsmen participated in African Lion this year, with the preponderance of troops coming from Marine Forces Reserve units throughout the United States.
This is the seventh year in a row that U.S. troops have come here for this exercise, which Marine Corps Forces Africa, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, has the lead on facilitating.

The final exercise was a culmination of more than four months of planning, mass logistical movements and detailed coordination between U.S. and Moroccan diplomatic and military leadership.
In the exercise scenario, several enemy mechanized units had intentionally crossed into Moroccan territory. A joint U.S. and Moroccan task force was formed to repulse the enemy with a combination of air and ground capabilities. These included helicopters, tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, mortars, combat engineers and mobile assault platoons.

After Moroccan Kornet guided missiles initiated the attack, combat engineers from 4th Combat Engineer Battalion in Roanoake, Va., used their Bangalore torpedoes to blast a hole through the breach.

“It was excellent,” said Cpl. John Saunders, a reserve Marine with 4th CEB who helped to emplace the 33 pounds of high explosives and secured the fuse igniter systems. “Our goal from the time we dismounted, emplaced the charge and withdrew was 90 seconds, and we beat it. When that bunker buster went off, it was incredible.”

The Moroccan Army provided the air power with Gazelle helicopters strafing their targets with missiles.

U.S. and Moroccan tanks closed in, hammering old tank hulks with high-explosive rounds and machine gun fire.
The American M1A1 Abrams tanks came from Company F, 4th Tank Battalion headquartered at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

“It was a good show, and great practice maneuvering and firing as a platoon,” said platoon commander 2nd Lt. Peter Heiman, who is on his first deployment as an officer in the Marine Corps Reserve. “The Moroccan tankers seem to really know their stuff.”

Heiman explained that earlier in the week, he and his Marines had the chance to meet with the Moroccan tankers, climb inside their tanks and shoot their weapons.

“It was really great training,” said Heiman, “One of their sergeants had been on the same tank for 26 years. One thing I can say is that they’re really experienced.”

Cpl. Matthew Ross, a 23-year-old vehicle commander with 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in Quantico, Va., also had the chance to work with Moroccan troops prior to and during the final exercise.

“My initial impression is that they are very professional,” said Ross, a five-year reserve Marine who is a senior at Georgetown University. “They know what they need to be doing at all times. There is no laissez faire leadership. They’re like us; mission oriented. They always knew what was going on.”

A linguistics major with a focus on Arabic and Dari languages, the exercise gave a Ross both a chance to exert his leadership as a first-time vehicle command and to practice Arabic with the Moroccan soldiers.

“There are a lot of things you can take away from the exercise,” said Ross. “It proves to the Marines that you can work with a foreign military force in a (military to military) exercise and see that they can have an equal level of professionalism. We can integrate with foreign militaries if the mission dictates. The Marines at the (noncommissioned officer) level have confidence that they can work successfully with a foreign military that speaks another language, and with a culture that is really different. There is a very specific commonality between them and our Marines: military professionalism.”

While the tanks were blasting away at their targets, Marine Corps mortarmen from Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment fired their 81 millimeter mortar rounds.

“This was a very positive experience overall,” said Sgt. Timothy Gena a reserve Marine mortars section leader with Weapons Company, who also had the chance to train with his Moroccan counterparts prior to the final exercise.

“They have the French and Spanish versions of the weapons (81 millimeter mortars), but it’s the same concept. What was amazing is that we were able to work with them without an interpreter, and these guys, (the Moroccans) were really good. This kind of thing is very important, especially for the junior Marines, who may not have done this before, or who might have had a negative experience in the past. It’s great to come here for (annual reserve training) and come away with a respect for the Moroccans. I think we had a mutual respect here.”

While the troops on the ground put the pincers on the notional enemy forces, the U.S. and Moroccan senior leadership sat together watching the fiery show from a vantage point on a hill nearby.

After the successful completion of the live-fire, Moroccan Gen. Abdul Al Aziz Benani, General of the Royal Moroccan Army Corps, spoke to the American delegation, which included Samuel L. Kaplan, the U.S. ambassador to Morocco, and Marine Corps Reserve Maj. Gen. James M. Croley, the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general.

“This is a beautiful thing, when you shoot and hit your target,” said Benani. “I want to tell you how satisfied we are, and I want to thank you for your work to make this exercise successful.”

Although this year’s African Lion has come to a close, U.S. and Moroccan planners are already looking at next year’s exercise, which is expected to bring even more Marine Forces Reserve units here and involve a broader range of U.S. and Moroccan troops.

“The evolution of this exercise would entail an amphibious offload and a larger training force to include expanding our current combined training relationship with Moroccan forces,” said Hilbun. “Marine Forces Africa is becoming a focus of effort for the Marine Corps. This exercise provides us with continued access to one of our key strategic partners in Africa as the United States continues to maintain a national focus on expanding our involvement on the African continent.”

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