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Shaping the environment

1-94 Field Artillery platoon builds relationships with Omani allies during combined training in a rugged landscape

Published: 02:21PM March 1st, 2012

When most people think of Operation Enduring Freedom, they call to mind media reports of troops fighting the Taliban insurgency throughout Afghanistan. But behind the scenes, there are many other missions in support of OEF that play a vital role in maintaining regional stability.

As the Army looks to downsize and streamline its forces, it still must maintain versatility and readiness to meet security challenges around the world. In a Jan. 27 Pentagon briefing, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno stressed the increasing importance of joint and combined operations.

“The Army has a critical role in shaping the environment,” Odierno said, “and sustaining strong military relations with allies, building the capacity of partners to maintain internal and regional stability and operating alongside our joint forces to facilitate access around the world.”

Odierno said that the keys to building our partners’ capacity are “small-scale events, whether they be training events or building partner capacity or bilateral events that will allow us to continue to establish these relationships.”

One such exercise was a bilateral training event with the Royal Army of Oman in an Arabian Gulf nation — the Sultanate of Oman. Operation Inferno Creek, a two-week joint training exercise with U.S. Army forces and the RAO with a focus on light infantry tactics at the squad and platoon level, led to a company cordon and search operation.

U.S. Army Central Command selected the 1st Platoon, 125th Forward Support Company, part of Task Force 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment, a HIMARS battalion in 17th Fires Brigade, to participate in Operation Inferno Creek.

The company completed a comprehensive and intense training cycle in Kuwait to hone its skills in dismounted infantry tactics, transforming a platoon of support personnel into infantrymen. They conducted the exercise at an Omani training base north of the western Oman city, Salalah, about 50 miles from the Yemen border. The 11th Northwest Frontier Regiment, responsible for the border security along the Oman-Yemen border, participated in the exercise as the element from the RAO.

Upon arriving in Oman, 1st Plt. members noticed the difference in terrain from their previous training areas. Compared to the thick forests of Washington and the flat desert of Kuwait, the Omani steep and rocky mountains provided a new challenge.

“We may not be an ‘official’ infantry unit, but after this training, we’ll stack ourselves up to any of them,” Sgt. 1st Class Alexander Mariano, platoon sergeant, said.

Leaders spent five days preparing 1st Plt. Soldiers to execute squad-sized ambushes and attacks, urban movement techniques, enter and clear a room, and platoon ambushes and raids. The doctrine focus enabled the Americans to show the Omanis how their tactics differed.

To facilitate the learning and understanding between the two armies, Omani and U.S. Soldiers conducted training by intermixing the squads and platoons. After struggling side-by-side through the terrain and desert heat, the Soldiers from the two countries quickly formed a bond. The platoon conducted a mission using Omani tactics, adding to their understanding of how a foreign army operates.

The biggest advantage was for the leaders who trained with the same Omani platoon throughout the exercise, building personal relationships with their Omani counterparts. These relationships often ended up with both armies trading for pieces of the others’ uniforms. The most traded for item was the Omani “shemogs,” or the head wraps that are specific to the RAO and part of their uniform. In turn, the Omani soldiers wanted Gerber multi-tools and sunglasses.

The Omanis also hosted 1-94 FA Soldiers at their base for a sports day, competing in a marksmanship competition, paintball competition, and tug of war competition. Like the training, all teams were integrated with equal Omanis and Americans. The day ended with a traditional Omani lunch consisting of rice, chicken, camel meat and fruit.

All participants in the exercise received commemorative bracelets with the countries’ flags, the training dates, and the name of the exercise, capping off the exercise with a fun and friendly celebration of the relationship between Oman and the United States.

Oman is a stable and key western ally in the region, providing airbases and naval ports for use by the U.S. The 11th NFR is on the front line of maintaining that stability by protecting Oman and the U.S. from regional threats and the efforts of the RAO are instrumental in promoting a combined vision of peace and security throughout the world.

This exercise enabled both armies to gain an understanding and appreciation for what the other does in the collective fight against terrorism.

The importance of the exercise was underscored by the number of senior leaders attending and viewing the training, including the deputy commander in chief of ARCENT, Maj. Gen. Gary Cheek, and the aide to the Omani minister of defense.

Prior to Operation Inferno Creek, U.S. forces conducted a similar exercise at Oman’s invitation every two years. Because of the relationships built this year, the Omani government has invited the U.S. back for annual exercises.

These operations enhance the vision of the secretary of Defense and the Army chief of staff, of building partner capacity to meet threats to national security and regional stability and building the level of theater security cooperation among U.S. allies. Operation Inferno Creek is a major step toward strengthening and conducting combined operations to meet future security challenges.