19th Special Forces Soldiers Learn

Mountain Rescue in Morocco

 

By LTC Hank McIntire

 

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Published May 11, 2010

 

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Major General Brian Tarbet, center, reviews Moroccan troops during a visit to Marrakech, Morocco, March 18.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Major General Brian Tarbet, center, reviews Moroccan

troops during a visit to Marrakech, Morocco, March 18.

OUKAIMEDEN, Morocco — In March of this year, as part of its ongoing State Partnership Program with Morocco, a Utah National Guard command visit coincided with a unit-level exchange between the 19th Special Forces Group and the 1st Ski Battalion of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces.

Adjutant General MG Brian Tarbet was joined on the trip by leaders from the 151st Air Refueling Wing, 19th Special Forces Group and members of his staff. Tarbet travels to Morocco a number of times a year to maintain a regular dialog with his senior colleagues in the Moroccan military and often invites Soldiers and Airmen to join him in order to familiarize them with the Utah Guard’s partnership with Morocco, in place since 2003.

Eleven Soldiers of the Utah National Guard, nearly all of whom are from the 19th Special Forces Group, spent two weeks in Oukaimeden, one of only a handful of ski resorts in the entire continent of Africa.

A Utah National Guard 19th Special Forces Soldier instructs a Moroccan Soldier in GPS techniques during a land-navigation class at Oukaimeden.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

A Utah National Guard 19th Special Forces Soldier instructs a Moroccan Soldier in GPS techniques during a land-navigation class at Oukaimeden.

At 10,000 feet, the altitude of the training location, the focus of the exercise was on disaster preparedness, snow movement and mountain-rescue techniques.

"We’re covering medical and mountaineering skills in a downed-aircraft scenario," explained CW3 Rodney Holliday, Charlie Company, 1-19th Special Forces.

In small groups and one on one, Soldiers of the 19th conducted classes with their Moroccan counterparts on first aid and land navigation.

Tarbet and other Utah Guard leaders observed the training up close and were very impressed.

"As always, when our troops are involved with the Moroccans, I think they are our very best ambassadors," said Tarbet.

"We’ve been exchanging techniques back and forth," said Holliday. "We show them our equipment, they show us theirs. We’re working together toward those goals."

Soldiers from the Utah Guard's 19th Special Forces demonstrate the treatment of a casualty with a neck injury.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Soldiers from the Utah Guard's 19th Special Forces

demonstrate the treatment of a casualty with a neck injury.

"This Moroccan battalion is very experienced in high-altitude, cold-weather operations," added MAJ Reece Roberts, officer in charge of the Utah contingent. "They have shared with us their field-expedient methods because they don’t have the deep pockets and resources that we have. We have been able to pick up ways of doing things and medical treatment and moutaineering techniques when you don’t have all the nice gear that you could pick up at REI."

A unique capability of the Moroccan army in this environment is their experience in working with pack animals for mountain rescues.

"We have a lot of difficulties transporting equipment and materials here, so we showed them how to use mules in mountains," said Sr. Lt. Mohammed, a company commander in the 1st Ski Battalion.

A Moroccan soldier awaits his turn to ascend a cliff during a rappelling demonstration and simulated mountain rescue March 18 at Oukaimeden.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

A Moroccan soldier awaits his turn to ascend a cliff during a rappelling demonstration and simulated mountain rescue March 18 at Oukaimeden.

"Mules are one of their primary methods of transport," said Roberts. "What they don’t carry on their backs, they pack onto their mules. We had them teach us some packing and operations with mules because our Special Forces Soldiers have had some experience with mules in Afghanistan."

While at At Oukaimeden, Senior Utah Guard leaders were also treated to an impressive demonstration of rappelling and climbing techniques by the young, but very experienced Moroccan soldiers. The event was narrated by a twenty-something Moroccan officer, who in flawless English explained each phase of the operation.

At the base of the cliff where the climbing exhibition took place, Lt. Col. Faouzi Naciri, commander of the 1st Ski Battalion, exchanged gifts with MG Tarbet, and Tarbet inscribed a book for his colleague in a token of friendship.

"These partnerships pay off," said Tarbet. "They have been one of the very successful things the Guard has done for nearly two decades, and the Morocco-Utah relationship has been one of those success stories. We love to work with them."

"In this combined exercise we exchange a lot of things: training, ways of thinking and ways of behaving," said Mohammed. "We have learned a lot from the Americans, and they have learned a lot from us."

"One of our core missions is training and working with foreign troops," said Holliday. "All of us have done that previously, so we’re able to build on and improve the skills we’ve been learning in the past. We’re using language skills, we’re working together. We see their ways of doing things, which will prepare us to work better with other troops in the future. This experience will help us when we go back to the combat environment."

"I have been very impressed with the Moroccan soldiers and NCOs here," observed Roberts. "They are very willing to learn, they are asking good questions, they are engaging and they have a good knowledge base. It’s been very beneficial for us to work with them. We’ve really had a good opportunity to build some what I hope to be long-term relationships."