ABOARD USS KEARSARGE -- The well decks aboard USS Kearsarge and USS Ashland buzzed with activity Aug. 25 as the last of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) Marines and sailors arrived aboard the ships via landing craft following a 10-day bilateral training exercise with the Jordanian army and air force.
This exercise, dubbed Infinite Moonlight, marked the first time in several years that the U.S. and Jordan have conducted the combined training aimed at reinforcing security in the region while strengthening the military relationships between the United States and Jordan.
Jordanian military officers were quick to make the MEU Marines and Sailors feel welcome as they encouraged a productive exercise.
"We are very pleased to see you [the Marines]. We are pleased to do any practices and training with you," said Royal Jordanian Brig. Gen. Malek Habashneh, the commanding general of the King Faisal Air Base. "I think this will be very useful to both of us, the Jordanians and Marines. We feel that we are very close to each other in both hospitality and friendship."
Marines from the MEU's ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 8th Marines, joined with the Jordanian 40th Infantry Brigade to conduct a series of training evolutions including several live-fire events. Meanwhile, many of the jets, helicopters and personnel from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadrom-162 (Reinforced) supported operations and shared aviation experiences with the Jordanian air forces at an air base in central Jordan.
A rocket attack Aug. 19 did nothing to hamper the exercise. It instead allowed the strike group to demonstrate the United States' resolve in the global war on terrorism and stalwart support of coalition allies. The ships of the Kearsarge Strike Group that appeared to be the targets of the attack simply took up less vulnerable positions a few miles from shore in the Gulf of Aqaba and continued to support the exercise.
Infinite Moonlight is being hailed as a significant Central Command exercise as it demonstrated a partnership and a commitment of U.S. military interoperability with a key ally in the region.
MEU Marines, many of whom have had the opportunity to see several foreign services in action, were impressed by what they saw in Jordan.
"The training here has been really good. We have learned a lot from the Jordanians and they have learned a lot from us," said Cpl. Jason A. Cummings, a team leader with Weapons Platoon, E Company, BLT 2/8.
He noted tactics employed by Royal Jordanian soldiers that were similar to other well-trained military organizations he has observed in the past. It gave him and other Marines in his unit a fresh look at some basic tactics.
"We learned how their squads use different formations during an attack. When doing individual and squad rushes, they do like the (Republic of Korea) Marines by rolling before standing up in order to avoid (taking fire at) their previous position."
Infinite Moonlight progressed through a series of integrated training exercises with each evolution building toward the next. The exercise concluded with a coordinated bi-lateral field training exercise (FTX) that included close-air support from HMM-162 and a Jordanian and Marine, combined motorized and mechanized armor attack on two separate objectives.
Following the FTX, the BLT 2/8 commander, Lt. Col. Robert G. Petit, commended his troops efforts, comparing them to a professional football team.
"Every one of you had a piece in the playbook. Everybody had to do their block and everybody had to make their tackle. You have a lot to be proud of. You did a superb job. I hope you remember this place, Jordan," he said.
Other important events during Infinite Moonlight included combined parachute operations, explosive ordnance disposal operations, and AV-8B Harrier / F-5 Freedom Fighter air combat maneuvering qualifications.
With Infinite Moonlight complete, the MEU will complete the backload today and continue its primary mission as the Central Command strategic reserve through the end of the month.
The MEU will then re-enter the Mediterranean Sea for operations with Sixth Fleet and to begin preparations for the voyage home.
For more information on the 26th MEU (SOC), log on to www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.