Amman, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (AFNS) —
Explosions reverberate throughout the city, and rapid gunfire echoes off the stucco buildings as a joint nation special operations force fast-ropes onto a three-story building to infiltrate the hostile city.
Air Force Special Tactics teams, Jordanian Armed Forces Special Task Force and Italy’s 17th Stormo Incursori special operations forces secure each building in the compound — searching for a missing U.S. service member and rendering aid to casualties along the way.
This wasn’t a real-world mission; it was personnel recovery training at Eager Lion 2017, an annual U.S. Central Command exercise in Jordan designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships between the U.S., Jordan and more than 20 different international partners.
“This is a combined fight just about everywhere you go,” said Lt. Col. Rodger Jennrich, the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron and Special Operations Task Force CEDAR commander during this exercise. “We have to learn to work with our partners in training– so that when we go into real combat scenarios, it’s not the first time we’ve seen it.”
Behind the scenes of these complex military operations is the Air Force’s ground special operations forces, Special Tactics–training to command and control joint coalition forces in a SOTF.
“Future conflicts and crises will continue to require interdependence between air and ground forces, and it’s in Special Tactics’ DNA to integrate those two,” said Col. Michael Martin, the 24th Special Operations Wing commander, who leads the Air Force’s only Special Tactics wing. “This nation relies upon special operations forces to accomplish high-stakes, no-fail missions. We train so our Airmen can solve some of the enemy-centric problems– from a unique leadership perspective and air/ground capabilities.”
SOTFs are headquarters that command and control ground units to accomplish special operations missions—constructs that Special Tactics Airmen haven’t often led in the past, but are this year as SOTF CEDAR.
Special Tactics forces have work towards leading a joint SOTF in both air and ground-focused exercises in the U.S. In December, during Air Combat Command’s Weapons School Integration exercise, and in March, during Exercise Emerald Warrior, a U.S. Special Operations Command directed irregular warfare exercise.
“Special Tactics must continue to train to contribute at this level of responsibility,” Jennrich said. “During Emerald Warrior, the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron stood up a SOTF, and we took the lessons learned from that operation and built off of it.”
Primarily, SOTF CEDAR’s special operations teams completed global access, precision strike, direct action and personnel recovery operations—missions that Special Tactics Airmen specifically train for.
Joint nation partners are integrated into every phase of the operations, from mission planning to briefing to executing the training mission. In fact, Italians and Greek SOF were injected into the SOTF to help run operations and build partnership capacity.
“Eager Lion is like a deployment—but expedited,” said a Special Tactics officer with the 23rd STS, who is working within SOTF CEDAR alongside his Jordanian counterparts. “We’re trying to do as much as possible in a very compressed timeframe—and we are leading these missions, so we own the responsibility to execute them successfully.”
Special Tactics’ exercises in command and control comes as the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. David L. Goldfein, has called for the Air Force to develop joint leadership, and revitalize squadrons as a unit of action.
“The CSAF is empowering us to train leaders to be more joint minded,” said Jennrich. “Working inside the SOTF, under the Combined Joint SOTF, means we are constantly working with our Army, Navy, Marine and combined counterparts. This creates combined joint leaders, and our Special Tactics Airmen can take the lessons learned from this further into their career.”
For Special Tactics, the training won’t stop with Eager Lion, but repetitions like this exercise are essential for developing best practices, Jennrich believes– until it becomes second nature for Airmen to contribute to the joint fight as they lead and execute ground missions.