ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Soldiers from the United States’ Task Force Spartan and the United Arab Emirates Land Forces gathered from Jan. 24 to Feb. 6, 2021, at Al Hamra Training Center in the United Arab Emirates for Iron Union 14, the first bilateral training exercise between the forces since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This recurring exercise, designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships, allowed the forces to train how they might address regional security challenges. However, due to COVID-19, this year’s event came with its own challenges.
“It’s been an interesting process,” said Capt. Ryan McGovern, the brigade planner for 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, who had played a large role in planning this exercise. “I think the real challenge is being able to accomplish this in light of the COVID conditions. This is really the first bilateral maneuver exercise that ARCENT is doing under COVID conditions. Our mitigation measures have been effective. It’s a good indicator that the maneuver brigade supporting Task Force Spartan can conduct further exercises with bilateral partners both here in UAE and across the region.”
The UAE is a significant partner for the U.S. within the region, and exercises such as Iron Union demonstrate a commitment by all participating nations to promoting regional stability.
“It’s been great to work with the UAE Land Forces,” said McGovern. “Throughout the whole process we’ve taken deliberate actions on both sides, on the UAE Land Forces side and U.S. side, to mitigate the risk of COVID in this exercise.”
The training and planning are an opportunity for both countries to build tactical proficiency in critical mission areas, gain an understanding of each other's forces, and support long-term regional stability.
“The benefits for our Soldiers and our partners are building those relationships,” said Lt. Col. Bryan Bonnema, the battalion commander for 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. “For our Soldiers in particular it’s important for learning the tactics, techniques, and procedures of our regional partners and being able to experience another culture.”
This exercise is important for many reasons: partnership, security, and interoperability being just a few. The underlying importance of these types of exercises is to deliver a unified message that relationships matter and training alongside partners sends a message of readiness and lethality in an effort to deter potential adversaries.
“We understand that security must be earned,” said Bonnema. “It takes hard work. We are putting in that hard work with our regional partners so we can increase our capacity, we can build those relationships, and we can be prepared to address regional security threats together.”
As Iron Union 14 came to a close, Maj. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, commanding general of Task Force Spartan, recognized the value in continuing to safely train with our partners.
Even in the wake of COVID-19, the exercise will continue not only to shape security in the region but to continue to grow the bonds of military-to-military partnerships.
“As some COVID restrictions have eased and we’re able to conduct more face-to-face training, we’re seeing it’s as if we haven’t missed a beat,” said Hamilton. “I am grateful to our Emirati hosts this week and extremely impressed by their professionalism and dedication as a partner in the region. I look forward to many more of these opportunities in the future.”