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Feature Stories

NEWS | Feb. 13, 2021

A partnership story, the U.S. and the UAE

By Courtesy Story Task Force Spartan

In the military we often hear the terms “interoperability,” “bilateral,” and “military-to-military” and don’t think much of them. Not because they hold no meaning—quite the opposite—but because they have become so familiar in our rhetoric that they have become commonplace.

The truth is these words are familiar because they are foundational in describing the U.S. Army’s relationships with our partner nations. These aren’t just words, but reasons why we work alongside so many militaries around the world.

Task Force Spartan is a U.S. Army organization built on partnerships, especially enduring ones with militaries in the Middle East and Southwest Asia where TF Spartan supports Operation Spartan Shield, the mission to strengthen our defense relationships and build partner capacity in these areas.

The relationship between the U.S. Army and the United Arab Emirates is one of the partnerships TF Spartan has worked to strengthen over the years. Sharing a long, friendly collaboration, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S., TF Spartan forces have developed strong ties through key leader engagements, training events and bilateral, semi-annual exercises like Iron Union.

Exercise Iron Union 14 took place at Al Hamra Training Center in the UAE, Jan. 24 to Feb. 6, 2021 and gave both forces the opportunity to work together, share tactics and techniques, and work to increase security in the region.

“The expected outcome from this exercise [Iron Union] is to increase our tactical proficiency together, to learn tactics, techniques, and procedures from both organizations,” said Lt. Col. Bryan Bonnema, battalion commander for 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. “Military-to-military engagements, and other engagements that we can execute together, build trust and cohesion between our armies with benefits that last far beyond this exercise.”

Bonnema, who led the U.S. forces in this year’s exercise, says it is positively impactful for the U.S. Army to be able to work with our regional partners, the United Arab Emirates.

The U.S. was the third country to establish formal diplomatic relations with the UAE in 1972, only a year after its establishment as a country. Those relations have only increased since then, and together, the U.S., UAE, along with other coalition members worked together to end the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1991.

That cooperation is a prime example of how interoperability during military operations led to the deepening of relationships between the U.S. and partner nations such as the UAE, and why bilateral training exercises such as Iron Union are so important.

As the U.S. and UAE relationship continued to strengthen after The Gulf War, the Emirates later sent a regiment to Kuwait to support efforts during the Iraq War, and played a role in Operation Enduring Freedom after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center.

The U.S. Army and UAE Land Forces meet quarterly for Iron Union. The training is designed to continue to strengthen military-to-military relationships so the forces can better stand up against future and complex national security challenges.

“Every time we have an opportunity to execute collective training, we learn,” said Bonnema. “It’s even more profound when we train with professional partners such as the UAE Land Forces. We are better for it because of the relationships we are able to build.”

Both respective military forces are eager to continue this partnership, a sentiment that stood fast even in the face of new obstacles, such as COVID-19.

“Although we were not able to train as frequently as we would’ve liked, we learned to make adjustments allowing us to work through COVID,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, commanding general of Task Force Spartan. “Units were able to fall in line and pick up where they left off. It’s truly a testament to the mission of our units and our partners.”

The UAE’s long running partnership with the U.S. Army’s Task Force Spartan aides in growing security and cooperation in the region. While the UAE has a small footprint when it comes to military personnel, the UAE was nicknamed “Little Sparta” by U.S. Armed Forces generals in reference to the small but most feared military force of the ancient-Greek world.

“Our mission is to deter destabilizing influences and aggression in the region,” said Hamilton. “The best way that we, as Task Force Spartan, can deter aggression by those actors is to continue to train together, help build partner capacity and support our regional partners whenever possible.”

Hamilton’s words astutely sum up the message behind the terms interoperability, bilateral, and military-to-military and won’t soon take them for granted. Words that have a second meaning for the Soldiers that fought with the UAE in past wars, who trained with them, and participated in exercises like Iron Union 14.