GILA BEND, Ariz. - The United States and coalition forces have battled against terrorism in the Middle East for more than a decade – upgrading their tactics, techniques and procedures to dispose of an evasive and unpredictable enemy.
In order to take advantage of the vital knowledge gained in the War on Terror, and to prepare for future joint conflicts, the United Kingdom Army conducts their Crimson Eagle exercise at Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field, Ariz., during the months of April and May.
Army Air Corps squadrons rotate in and out of AAF Gila Bend to partake in Crimson Eagle, a pre-deployment training exercise that has been proven valuable over the years in acclimating UK pilots and aircrew to the unfamiliar and austere operational environment common in the Middle East.
“The first thing we’re looking to do is to get our pilots finely qualified in their aircraft,” explained Capt. Thomas Bannister, a Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot with No. 662 Squadron Army Air Corps of the UK. “We’re conducting our environmental qualifications: doing our dust landings, operating in the desert and hot, high conditions in the mountains. For us, it’s a massive change in scenery and familiarity, as we’re used to training in the cold, wet UK.”
An additional benefit to Crimson Eagle includes the realistic training it provides to the troops on the ground.
Joint terminal attack controllers (JTAC) with 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., joined their UK comrades during Crimson Eagle to call in, coordinate and conduct close air support.
Perched on a mountain peak and overlooking their target point nestled in the awing abyss below, the integrated JTACs are tasked with laying out the blue print for an air strike; fabricating hostile maneuvers and activity, determining necessary action, pinpointing direct firing coordinates, and giving final approval for attacks all while communicating feedback to the aircraft overhead.
Major Jason Edholm, the air officer for 11th Marine Regiment of 1st MEF, explained how this training is advantageous to both parties involved.
“It’s good for the JTACs from 11th Marine Regiment, because there are not a lot of opportunities to get live aircraft with live ranges, live ordnance and realistic target sets like we have here,” said Edholm, who operated as a JTAC during Crimson Eagle. “It’s an opportunity for us to come out, cross train and practice our tactics, techniques and procedures with them. From the aircraft and aircrew perspective, they get to hear two different types of voices. The way they talk and say things is slightly different.”
Bannister believes the linguistic, environmental and operational challenges presented over the course of Crimson Eagle produces a better product on both the individual and joint force level.
“There are quite a lot of lingo differences, but over the past ten years of operating in Afghanistan and Iraq, everything has kind of come together,” said Bannister. “Working with the American JTACS has been very valuable, as we’ll be doing so in theatre alongside other coalition controllers. Unfamiliar controllers in unfamiliar locations with unfamiliar procedures – it builds your experience as an aviator.”
At the end of the day, the depth of training provided to the Marines and UK soldiers during Crimson Eagle not only prepares the coalition forces for whatever the future may hold, but also speaks to the operational efficiency demonstrated over the last decade against the War on Terror.