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Eager Lion: Partnerships build as 94th AW flies over Jordan

December 12, 2016 (by SSgt. Alan Abernethy) - From “Hotlanta” to the sunny, arid deserts of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, 94th Airlift Wing Airmen always stand ready to execute the U.S. Air Force mission.

A 94th AW C-130 takes off from King Abdullah AB, Jordan, in support of Eager Lion 2016 on May 22, 2016. This year Eager Lion was a bilateral partnership including the U.S. and Jordanian military forces held May 15-24. [USAF photo by SSgt. Alan Abernethy]

Miles and cultural differences separate Jordan from here; however, the country is a strong U.S. ally in the Middle East. For this reason, the wing’s Airmen traveled there to strengthen the partnership between the two nations’ military forces.

As a player in Exercise Eager Lion 2016, held May 15-24, the 94th AW worked with Royal Jordanian Armed Forces members to execute a wide variety of airlift missions. Through collaboration, the two groups overcame challenges and capitalized on similarities to integrate their capabilities. In the process, the 94th AW’s operations and maintenance crews not only maintained sharp technical skills, but also found ways to work together more efficiently.

Eager Lion is designed to “continue strengthening our relationship with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Jordanian Armed Forces,” said Brig. Gen. Pete Byrne, Air Component Coordinating Element director. It is a “conduit to our shared objective of security for the region.”

This year marks the sixth iteration of Eager Lion, but only the second year the 94th Airlift Wing has participated, said Maj. Jonathan Lester, the 94th AW’s lead planner for the exercise. Last year’s exercise included many other nations from around the world.

The 2016 exercise only included Jordan and the U.S., which allowed for a tighter working relationship between the 94th AW and the RJAF, added Lester.

While Eager Lion is a U.S. Central Command exercise also including U.S. Army, Navy, and Marines, the 94th AW provided a significant portion of the air support as the only participating C-130 unit, Lester said. The primary exercise partner agency for the 94th AW was the Royal Jordanian Air Force No. 3 Transport Squadron, a C-130 Hercules unit based at King Abdullah Air Base in Amman.

“Eager Lion provided us with the opportunity to learn more about integrating our capabilities with allied nation forces - we flew low-level tactical missions, performed airdrops, flew using night-vision goggles, performed engine-running on-loads and off-loads, and deployed threat avoidance tactics,” Lester added. “In pairing with the Jordanians, 94th crews executed every C-130 assigned mission set, excluding formation flying.”

Though significant, the air support mission of the 94th AW and RJAF No. 3 Sq. represented only a portion of the Eager Lion’s overall scope.

“It is a ground centered exercise simulating a war,” Lester said. “We are here to support the air component of the Eager Lion; whether it’s moving cargo, dropping Army paratroopers or setting up an airfield.”

In executing these tasks, 94th AW crews – especially the wing’s traditional reservists – had many opportunities to sharpen their skillsets, he said.

“It’s a lot of work,” Lester added. “Just through the operation and maintenance of the aircraft itself, everyone is getting training, and maintaining currency and proficiency.”

Early in the exercise, 94th AW crews flew a familiarization flight over Jordan in an RJAF C-130 and observed the host nation’s crews at work, Lester said. A big benefit of the collaboration here is the aspect of “show-and-tell.”

Capt. Dave Lessani, 700th Airlift Squadron pilot, participated in the flight and said he noticed minor differences in the way the RJAF aircrews operated and employed procedures; however, the cohesive dynamic between the crew members and the roles they play while flying is nearly identical to U.S. military C-130 crews.

“During the flight, I spoke with a Jordanian loadmaster; although there are cultural differences, the human element of who we are and what we do is the same,” said Lessani. “We are both dedicated to our military duties and service to our country.

As 94th AW and RJAF crews continued working together, the workflow and rhythm continually increased as the units learned to collaborate more efficiently, Lester said.

To keep the 94th AW C-130 running smoothly, more than 15 aircraft maintenance personnel supported the exercise from the ground, said 1st. Lt. Elizabeth Van Patten, 94th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron officer.

The working partnership between 94th AW and Jordanian maintainers is very strong, she said, stating she had been working closely with an RJAF technician who had been performing maintenance on C130s for more than 35 years.

“The Jordanian crews are extremely knowledgeable of the C-130 and take a lot of pride in their aircraft,” Van Patten added. “They have very good maintenance practices.”

Although the 94th and RJAF crews quickly developed a good rapport, Van Patten explained that overcoming the language barrier was a challenge. She said she learned some Arabic words during the exercise to improve communication between the groups.

“I’ve realized our crews use slang and shortened words to describe aircraft pieces and equipment,” she said. “I told the Jordanians we needed a TD amp and they didn’t understand. When they communicate in English, they don’t know any slang.”

After requesting the part by its formal name - temperature data amplifier - communication was effective and the RJAF maintenance crew was able to provide the needed part, she explained.

While working with RJAF crews, 94th AW Airmen experienced another benefit that occurred naturally. The exercise was designed to strengthen the partnership between U.S. and Jordanian forces, but it also provided an opportunity for the 94th aviation operations and maintenance crews to tighten unit cohesion.

In spending time together throughout the exercise, and traveling from Dobbins ARB to Amman, Jordan, personnel from the different squadrons got a chance to know each other better, said Lester. The aircrew members had a chance to better understand which maintenance technicians specialize in what aspects of the job, which can translate into a stronger working relationship.

Considering the constant close interaction and the demands of working this far from home, the exercise simulates a deployed environment, said Chief Master Sgt. Marvin Jones, 94th Maintenance Group superintendent. A situation like this helps operations and maintenance Airmen understand each other better.

While the exercise’s technical operations sought to meet definitive objectives, the greater benefit of the exercise can sometimes be more closely related to building relationships, not meeting specific metrics.

Some of the exercise objectives are more easily measurable than others, said Byrne.

“In my view, the intangibles are sometimes more important to attaining the goal of overall security in the region,” Byrne added. “The intangibles relate to the synergy and team atmosphere created by this collaboration.”

It’s amazing what can be accomplished with mutual trust, added Byrne.

Courtesy of 94th Airlift Wing

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Maj. Jonathan Lester, 700th AS pilot, flies a 94th AW C-130 over Jordan in support of Exercise Eager Lion, May 19, 2016. [USAF photo by SSgt. Alan Abernethy]

Airman from the 94th AW pose with the US flag after completing a mission in support of Exercise Eager Lion in Jordan, May 19, 2016. [USAF photo by SSgt. Alan Abernethy]