Idaho Army National Guard Soldiers with the 1st Battalion of the 148th Field Artillery Regiment and their counterparts from California, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin are training with the Royal Moroccan Army in the northern Sahara Desert as part of African Lion ’22.
About 80 members of Idaho’s battalion from the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team left the United States June 18 for the two-week exercise.
“One goal of the National Defense Strategy is to have good international relations and partnerships,” said Maj. Ryan Batt, operations officer for the 1-148th FAR. “Building multinational relationships, increasing their tactical proficiency and understanding how to work together reduces deployment requirements for our military and our international partners, and helps provide global security.”
African Lion is a multinational, combined joint exercise conducted in Morocco, Ghana, Senegal and Tunisia. Almost 4,000 U.S. service members and more than 4,000 troops from Brazil, Canada, Ghana, Morocco, NATO, Netherlands, Senegal, Tunisia and the United Kingdom are participating in U.S. Africa Command’s largest annual exercise.
Idaho Soldiers spent the first week preparing for the combined arms live-fire multinational mission that is the primary focus of the second week and conducted annual crew certification on the M109A6 howitzer.
During the exercise, the battalion provided ground support with preparatory and destructive fires and obscuration using white smoke fires. At the end of the two-week training, the Idaho National Guard and the counterpart states will conduct the combined arms live-fire mission with Moroccan forces.
The battalion fired the M795 high explosive rounds and the M825 white smoke rounds from the M109A6 howitzers as ground support in conjunction with the Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin Army National Guards, California’s Marine Corps Reserve unit and active-duty Soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas.
Idaho’s battalion shipped multiple M109A6 howitzers, HMMWVs, a palletized loading system and a maintenance field repair system across the sea for the exercise. A team from the battalion was sent to help load and unload equipment onto a ship.
“One of our mission-essential tasks is to be able to deploy and perform expeditionary operations,” said Batt. “We don’t get to do that just by staying local and training in Idaho. We have to be able to go through the motions of moving personnel and equipment to a port and then transporting it to the battle space. A big part of the fight is being able to get there first.”
The battalion will soon transition to the M109A7, the newest version of the howitzer. During the two-week training, Moroccans and the Idaho National Guard learned how each unit uses its weapon platforms.
“Right now, the Moroccans shoot from the M109A5,” said Batt. “Although our goal is to head toward the future, it is just as beneficial to learn from the Moroccans on their M109A5 and how they utilize it. We rely on technology, but it is essential to learn from the Moroccans when it comes to manual operations. There is a time and a place for both operations, and it’s beneficial to understand each one.”
The Idaho National Guard is prepared to return to African Lion in the future and to continue its international partnerships abroad with allied countries.
“Global security and the National Defense Strategy is important not only to us in Idaho but as a whole nation and should be important globally,” said Batt. “This relationship has always been there, and we want to keep it strong moving forward.”