A military aircraft sets down on a quiet South African airport late at night, and within minutes a large group of Soldiers have secured the area and seen the aircraft depart. Though an irate airport manager soon arrives on the scene, the Soldiers soothe his fears and eventually are granted residence at the airport, which they will use as a staging base for a larger operation the following night.

Called a Tactical Air Landing Operation, or TALO, the mission is part of Exercise Shared Accord 2013, a joint exercise between the South African and U.S. militaries meant to increase capacity and enhance interoperability between the two forces. Soldiers involved included detachments from medical, engineer, intelligence and maintenance units along with paratroopers from the 1st South African Airborne Brigade and the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army.

"It is very critical that we must be trained first in multinational exercises, we must test our interoperability in terms of training and being able to cooperate and work together," said South African Army Col. Andy Mhatu, commander of the 1st Airborne Brigade. "It is my feeling that if you want to be smart in life, you must associate and compete with people that are smarter than you."

The TALO at East London Airport is the prelude to another assault, and serves the purpose of shortening lines of supply and communication prior to that assault.

"For this portion of the exercise we've partnered with the South Africans to conduct a TALO operation to seize an airfield so we can use it as an intermediate staging base so we can conduct an airborne operation in the next phase," said Capt. Craig Arnold, with 2nd Bde., 82nd Abn. Div. "We're just focusing on making sure that we can get to the area that we're going to operate from and get ready for the next phase of the operation."

That next phase involves a shift to winning over the local population, which in this scenario is not completely sympathetic.

"That operation will be followed…by humanitarian aid operations, where we will get involved in the peace mission and get the [nongovernmental organizations] involved because in the scenario there will be [internally-displaced persons] and we've got to make sure they've got care and aid given to them," Arnold said.

Exercise planners, in an attempt to make the East London operation as realistic as possible, introduced a variable in the shape of a civilian airport manager, angry at the unexpected arrival of military forces.

"If you are too aggressive, you put the people on the back foot," said South African Navy Lt. Cdr. Andy Pieterse, who acted as the manager. "You want to actually win hearts and minds, and if you can't get through that barrier it becomes a real issue."

Despite some initial struggles, the South African and U.S. forces were able to work with Pieterse to come to an agreement and use the airport as a staging base. "I think they started to realize that this is a good source of information," he said. "They can actually utilize this person's local knowledge, and get airport operations running without interfering too much or destroying the friendship that you are trying to build up."

Page last updated Wed July 31st, 2013 at 09:36