NORTHERN JORDAN (7/9/13) -- Over the course of two weeks, American and Jordanian air forces came together to train, build relationships and enjoy a little friendly competition as part of the multinational Exercise Eager Lion 2013 June 9 to 20.
Several units from the U.S. and Jordan flew F-16s and F-18s out of a training base in northern Jordan, exchanging best practices and working to minimize the cultural and language barriers that can often pose challenges on the ground and in the air.
The units participating included the Royal Jordanian Air Force's No. 1 and No. 6 Squadrons flying F-16s, the 120th Fighter Squadron from the Colorado Air National Guard flying F-16s, the 112th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from the Ohio Air National Guard flying F-16s, and the VMFA-115 Marine Fighter Attack Squadron from Marine Air Group 50 flying F-18s.
"We did a lot of tactical intercepts, focusing on the basic tactics to determine if someone meets the criteria of being a hostile and then taking simulated missile shots that would be able to take them down," said Lt. Col. Craig Wolf, chief of plans for the 120 FS.
"We worked together on the basic skill set of figuring out who's who, meeting the rules of engagement and employing a weapon against them," he said.
The pilots also conducted defensive counter air training with the Jordanians, so if a hostile aircraft tries to fly into Jordan, they will be able to defend their borders, Wolf said.
This valuable training is accomplished despite the differences in the way each squadron routinely operates.
"There are many differences between us," said Wolf. "The cultural mindset, the operational structure we have in place, how we do our mission scheduling and briefings, etc. is significantly different from how they operate on a daily basis."
Yet in light of all the differences, the Jordanians and Americans manage to find common ground.
"When we're in their country, we try to align our flying schedule with theirs, and adapt to their way of doing things," Wolf said.
Wolf remarked that the training environment in Jordan is of great value to the American pilots.
"We can do things in this airspace that we can hardly do anywhere else; we are able to train as you truly would operate in a combat zone."
While the pilots are training for real world events in the cockpit, the controllers on the ground are also getting valuable training.
"We have been able to fully integrate our flying largely due to the ability of the ground controllers to provide control for everyone flying," said Wolf, "and they've done really well."
The Jordanian ground controllers must be able to communicate in English with anyone in their airspace, whether it's a Jordanian or someone from another nation, an airman, Marine or soldier.
Communication barriers in the air and on the ground are slowly being overcome, especially with the 120th Fighter Squadron. Many members of the 120 FS have become trusted wingmen with the RJAF members since the Colorado National Guard has been partnered with the Kingdom of Jordan for more than 10 years through the State Partnership Program.
"We have been working with the Jordanians for a long time now, both here and back in Colorado" said Wolf, "and we have built lasting relationships that have made accomplishing missions together exponentially easier."
Maj. Ali Shabana, project officer for the RJAF, views that partnership in much the same way.
"When we fly together, we fly as one team," he said. "If an American pilot is the flight lead, the Jordanian pilot will follow his command, and likewise, if a Jordanian pilot is in command of the flight, the American will follow his direction."
This kind of cooperation and relationship building is not only happening in the air, it is seen at all levels of the operation, including in the maintenance hangars and back shops.
Chief Master Sgt. Scott Sechrest, equipment maintenance flight superintendent, 140th Maintenance Squadron, worked closely with RJAF maintainers all week.
"Our ability to work with them side-by-side is outstanding despite the language barrier," he said. "Mechanics are mechanics and even though we don't speak the same language, we were able to understand each other enough to make repairs and work together."
According to Sechrest, the RJAF structure and maintenance aspects are along the same lines as in the U.S., yet the Jordanian maintainers face different challenges because they don't always have the same equipment to work with.
"They do a fantastic job with the assets that they have," Sechrest said, "and they have a lot of ingenuity to make things work even though they may not have all of the parts and supplies that we do."
In addition to maintaining and launching jets with the RJAF maintainers, Sechrest and his crew spent time talking with the Jordanians about everything from medical insurance and family to culture and religious beliefs.
"They were extremely hospitable, friendly and very open-minded," Sechrest said. "They want to learn about other cultures and teach others about their own. They were very curious, in a good way, about our ways of life."
While the members of both nations have been working and training together throughout the course of Eager Lion, they have also enjoyed some friendly competition in a series of competitive events, previously referred to as "Falcon Air Meet."
The competition kicked off on June 9 with an opening ceremony followed by a munitions loading competition. A three-person team from both the 120 FS and the RJAF went head-to-head to see who could safely load one AIM-120 air-to-air missile and one BDU-50 inert 500-pound bomb onto an F-16.
"The competition was based on time and safety," said Senior Airman Aric McIntyre, aircraft armament systems technician, 140th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. "We were also scored on whether we had any technical data violations, for example if we skipped steps in the check list or touched the missile in the wrong place."
Since this was McIntyre's first time participating in the event, he didn't know quite what to expect.
"I was really laid back until I got there and friends started showing up to cheer us on," he said. "There was a big crowd and we got really nervous, especially after watching the Jordanians because they went so fast!"
Despite the nerves, McIntyre said that once the timer started and the U.S. team got going "instinct just kicked in." Both the Jordanian and American teams finished the competition successfully.
The second event was the scramble competition, which tested the pilot and maintenance crew's ability to quickly and safely launch a jet in response to an airborne threat.
At the signal to begin, the team members run to the jet, complete all the necessary pre-flight safety checks, and start the engines to prepare to taxi onto the runway. Once airborne, the pilot is evaluated on how quickly he can intercept a simulated enemy aircraft.
Capt. Carson Brusch, one of the two pilots who competed from the 120 FS, admitted that the most exciting part of the exercise was being able to take off and leave the jet in afterburner, which they normally don't do during routine flying training.
"We reached 570 knots by the time we were three miles off the departure end," he said, which enabled them to intercept the C-27 playing "red air" in as little time as possible.
Once they reached the suspect aircraft, Brusch identified it from above as hostile and cued his wingman, Capt. James Edwards, to launch a simulated Fox-2 heat-seeking missile at it, completing the evaluated portion of the event.
"It's a great opportunity to be able to fly with the Jordanians because they have great air space with few restrictions," Brusch said. "At home we have altitude caps, whereas here you can climb as high as you want and go as fast as you want within the specified airspace, which makes for greater training opportunities."
The intercept was accomplished as it would be in a combat zone, resulting in extremely practical training for both teams.
The third and final training event was a first run bombing competition, which evaluates the pilots' ability to launch an unguided live bomb onto a specified target on the first pass.
"The first run bombing competition is an extremely important exercise," said Shabana. "In the real world, you need to be able to get the bomb on target on the first try; if you have to make a second pass, you eliminate the element of surprise and put yourself in much greater danger."
During the competition, each pilot took their best shot and the bomb's point of impact was measured for proximity to the specified target.
This event was especially meaningful for the members of the ammunitions teams who build bombs regularly, but most have never actually seen one explode.
"It really helps put our job into perspective when we get to see the bombs that we built actually blow up," said Senior Airman Cinde Yoho, ammunitions technician, 140 MXS.
Finally, scores from each event of the meet were compiled based on evaluation by a white force using very specific measurements and safety criteria. The winners were announced at the closing ceremony at the conclusion of Exercise Eager Lion. The 1st Squadron from the RJAF won two of the three events, but the120th Fighter Squadron won the overall competition.
However, while both teams strived to win, the training that was accomplished during the exercise was far more important than taking home the trophy.