Airmen from the 31st Fighter Wing and Royal Moroccan Air Force conduct F-16 aviation training during exercise African Lion 2019, March 25-April 3, 2019, at Ben Guerir Air Base, Morocco.
African Lion 2019 is a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-sponsored, U.S. Africa Command-scheduled, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa-led, joint and combined exercise conducted in the Kingdom of Morocco with a spoke in Tunisia, and armed forces participants in from Canada, France, Senegal, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
The exercise involves various types of training, including a combined joint-task-force command-post exercise, aviation training exercise, field training exercise, maritime training exercise, and humanitarian civic assistance, with focus on transnational threats, regional cooperation, and cyber security and defense.
“We’re focused mostly on the aviation training exercise, which is a small portion of the overall exercise,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Beau Diers, the 555th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander. “Large force employment exercises (like this) are great for pilot development.
“Participating in these types of exercises provides a training opportunity for our pilots to get them outside of their comfort zone,” Diers added. “A new location, a new airspace, and talking to new people on the radio are all just invaluable experiences.”
The annually-scheduled, combined multilateral exercise is designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of each nations’ tactics, techniques, procedures while demonstrating the strong bond between the nations’ militaries.
“The training has been great,” said Diers. “The air space and range they have provided are for full-scale weapons deliveries, which provide us with an opportunity that we do not get to train on a regular basis, so we’re super happy with the support they’ve given us.”
Throughout the exercise, the U.S. and Moroccan F-16s conducted basic surface attacks and large-force employments, including inert GBU-24 Paveway III and GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs used for the first time in Morocco.
“The flying has been awesome,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Megan Hainline, the 555th EFS F-16C Fighting Falcon flight lead. “They have gotten some ranges setup so that we can shoot the gun and drop bombs we do not normally get to drop.
“Working with the Moroccans has been pretty awesome,” added Hainline. “It’s always surprising when you go to another country, and although English is their third language, you still speak the same language when you get into tactics and briefing missions.”
With a new setting, the pilots navigated a new airspace and operating systems, but Hainline believes the changes enhanced the teams flying capabilities while fostering an invaluable relationship with the Moroccans.
“For any partner that we work with through the military, it is awesome to get real-world experience working directly with them,” said Hainline. “The personal relationships that we are building with their pilots and maintainers are really important moving forward, because now I know them and they’re familiar faces.“
Not only did the exercise provide a new training environment for the F-16 pilots, but it also provided a unique learning experience for the 555th Aircraft Maintenance Unit.
“This is a good experience for them to get used to what it’s going to be like when we deploy downrange,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Aaron Childs, the 555th AMU productions superintendent. “It’s a good teamwork and team-building opportunity for them to see what it’s like to be one team-one fight. (Ultimately) it’s definitely a leadership opportunity for all levels of people to learn how to lead because we’re dealing with some adversity that we do not deal with everyday.”
In order to keep the F-16s flying, the maintenance Airmen conducted 24-hour operations while balancing the extreme temperatures in the day and frigid temperatures at night.
“So far they have done very well and we haven't had any major issues,” said Childs. “We’re having to keep everything short and sweet; turn over has to be precise and quick. When we’re getting the pilots the jets they ask for every day, everything has been safe and reliable.”
Despite the successes of his maintenance crew, Childs reminds his Airmen to always be ready for the unexpected because a resilient mindset is what it will take to keep the F-16s in the air throughout the exercise.
“As a project officer, I planned for this exercise for months and I tried to plan every detail and scenario,” added Childs. “It’s been day-by-day that we’re learning new ways to do things and dealing with new difficulties; so it is best is to just expect the unexpected, keep your head (in the game), and do well.”