NEWS | Feb. 14, 2019

U.S., Oman strengthen military partnership, capabilities

By Sgt. Linsey Williams Task Force Spartan

Mortars fire, Claymore mines detonate, and a support-by-fire element of infantry Soldiers at the crest of a rocky desert hill opens fire. Two Omani NH-90 helicopters swoop down through the sky and fire at their designated targets. Javelin shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles rocket into the sky. Sniper fire from a hillcrest hits silhouette targets standing in the open valley of sand. This was the final event of the Inferno Creek 19 exercise, an event that culminates three weeks of side-by-side training and many months of planning between the U.S. Army and the Royal Army of Oman.

As the dust begins to spread over the desert, American and Omani Soldiers begin the ground assault towards their objective. From high above, on a hilltop known as Sultan’s Perch, high-ranking military officials and distinguished guests watch the maneuvers through binoculars under the shade of camouflage netting.

While the U.S. and Oman are long-time partners, there are still many aspects of combat capability that can be enhanced when exercises like Inferno Creek take place, as U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kenneth Anthony, commander of Mississippi National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 198th Armored Regiment, 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team, points out.

“We’ve met, we’ve conducted classes and academics. We’ve also conducted seminars, and jointly have planned operations,” said Anthony. “Through that we’ve figured out how we can get through the difficult task of communicating, accomplishing our goal and meeting our training objectives.”

Inferno Creek is an example of military interoperability at all levels. Battalion staff worked through the Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP) in planning operations that would take place over the course of the multiple-week exercise.

“How do we really do operations together? There are a lot of things that you don’t think about. How do we talk on radios together? How do we bring in air [support] together? How do we do fires together? We’ve been able to work on some of those things,” Anthony continued. “We’ve expanded on it with a combined air assault operation that was not planned during the initial planning conferences. When we got here, as we built the partnership, the partnership strengthened and we built trust—we decided this would be something we could do in addition to what we had planned.”

Infantrymen in the 11th Brigade of the Royal Army of Oman had not conducted an air assault before this exercise. Task Force Spartan, a multi-component organization based in Southwest Asia designed to strengthen defense relationships and build partner capacity, assigned an aviation planner to the exercise to participate in the MDMP process.

“Once it was determined that they really wanted to do an air assault, it really changed the focus to doing the MDMP with both the army and the air force to bring both services to the table in order to plan and go through all the steps in order to be successful,” explained U.S. Army Maj. Bernie Williamson, aviation officer with the Minnesota National Guard’s 34th Red Bull Infantry Division. “I think the initial air assault was a great first step… The dialogue between the army and the air force has been fantastic. They’re extremely eager to work with us and work with each other. They’ve had discussions concerning future air assault planning and operations as well as developing programs to train the army in utilizing the helicopter both as a close air support and air assault platform. Things look really good for the future of their interoperability.”

At the company level, Soldiers spent day after day working on their company-level and below maneuvers while also taking some range time to practice other tasks. At a known-distance range the forces took the time to operate each other’s weapons systems; near a wadi (valley) system in Rabkoot, they set up a hasty entry-control point and practiced vehicle interdiction; they also had a day of load training with the Royal Air Force of Oman’s helicopters.

“All in all, they’re soldiers just like we are,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Timothy Millican, a dismounted squad leader in Charlie Company, of the 2nd Battalion, 198th Armored Regiment. “We have done a lot of rehearsal for the culminating event and essentially it’s a rehearsal for combat… In comparison to other exercises that we’ve done, I think Oman is my favorite and I think the ‘Joes’ would agree with me.”

Between each individual Soldier and their counterpart in the Royal Army of Oman and Royal Air Force of Oman, there was a unique camaraderie built over the course of the exercise. While the strategic partnership was being strengthened through training, friendships were formed through all of those long hours under the desert sun together.

“In conversation with the Task Force Spartan 155th [brigade] Soldiers, they indicated that this was some of the best training they’ve had since they’ve been in theater. That tells me we made a difference. As I talked to the brigade commander of the 11th Brigade of the Royal Army of Oman, he too felt that he has increased the proficiency of his Soldiers throughout the exercise of Inferno Creek,” stated Maj. Gen. Ben Corell, commander of the Minnesota National Guard’s 34th Red Bull Infantry Division and Task Force Spartan. “It’s a sharing event. We wouldn’t come into an exercise and expect that we know everything, because we don’t. Every Soldier that participated in this exercise has increased their knowledge of how to be a Soldier and how to be a Soldier in a different environment.”

Though one might argue that once you’ve trained in one desert, you’ve trained in all of them, there was a unique permissiveness to the ranges of Rabkoot.

There were rock-crested hills and valleys of sand that the Soldiers navigated each day. The troops were able to conduct either live or simulation munition engagements during much of their training in Oman.

“When we sweat together and we do training exercises like this, we all win,” Corell continued. “To build strong relationships…You’ve got to train together, you’ve got to sweat together, you’ve got to participate in the exercise and that’s what we’ve done here. To me that was magnified tenfold as I saw the life-fire event and the culminating event for Inferno Creek 19.”