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Desert hawks soar

The 29th Combat Aviation Brigade recently conducted the first bilateral Army Aviation event between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

The 29th Combat Aviation Brigade deployed a mix of UH-60 Blackhawks and AH-64 Apaches, during Exercise Desert Hawk, to train with the Saudi 1st Aviation Group. “We wanted to provide the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade the opportunity to work with other nations,” said Col. George E. Cone Jr., assistant chief of staff for training and exercises, U.S. Army Central Command.

Task Force Quickstrike, commanded by Lt. Col. Stephen Murphy, 3rd Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment, included AH-64 Apache helicopters and UH-60 Blackhawks from the 1st Battalion, 108th Aviation Regiment. The task force included more than 100 Soldiers including pilots and maintainers, as well as support and command staff. The 3-159th is one of the newest elements under the 29th CAB and among four Active Duty units to have served under the 29th CAB during this deployment.

“[The idea for the exercise] came about when Col. George Cone and I sat down and discussed ways to better train our forces and better ways for us to engage our allies and friends in the theater,” said Col. David Carey, commander of the 29th CAB. “We will be able to set the stage for our follow-on unit, the 35th CAB out of Missouri. Normally, it would take a year to set something like this exercise up; we did it in only 90 days.”

The exercise began with an opening ceremony featuring introductions from participant commanders and a Soldier’s promotion to specialist. The task force conducted day and night operations, convoy security in support of ground movements, UH-60 simulator training, a joint combined arms simulated air assault, site reconnaissance, sling load and cordon and search missions. The exercise scenarios were designed to portray realistic, modern day security challenges.

The combined-arms air assault was the culminating event. It combined all the other missions executed on previous days. The U.S. and Saudi Arabian militaries produced a joint operations order and mission analysis brief.
Soldiers conducted classes on Aviation Support to Counterinsurgency Operations, M-240B machine gun marksmanship, aviation ground support equipment and combat life saving techniques. All service members conducted briefings to show how the two nations can refine interoperability among operations, equipment and procedures. Soldiers from the two nations even gathered for an evening basketball game.

Task Force Quickstrike Soldiers experienced the partner nation culture firsthand during a dedicated cultural day. The Soldiers participated in traditional dances and rituals while eating traditional food like tea, coffee and dates. Soldiers even wore traditional Arab clothing.

“If you look at where we were and where we are now, by all accounts we’ve been very successful. Our hosts are extremely grateful for everything this task force accomplished in a short period of time,” said Murphy. “I’m leaving here very grateful for the way I was received and grateful for the opportunity to share time with our host.”

Exercises like Desert Hawk are designed to improve military interoperability. These exercises strengthen the units’ capabilities in planning and conducting combat operations to combat terrorism and irregular threats. In addition, the exercise sought to strengthen military-to-military relationships and promote regional stability.

Desert Hawk was a Theater Support Cooperation exercise. The United States routinely conducts TSC missions with its partners in the USARCENT Area of Responsibility in order to establish or enhance relationships with friendly regional militaries.

“We never know what the future will hold. We don’t know if we’ll have to fight tomorrow, next month or next year. The time we spend together training makes us ready to fight together tomorrow,” said Maj. Gen. Gary Cheek, the deputy commanding general of USARCENT. “We look forward to future exercises, opportunities and growing this into a bigger exercise.”

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