Soldiers from the United States and South Africa gained valuable combat experience during the final, live fire, portion of Exercise Shared Accord, which was recently held at the Lohatla training ground in the Norther Cape.
The exercise, which ended on 3 August, allowed American soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment to hone their skills on anti-armour weapons and fire and manoeuvre tactics in a foreign country.
As part of a move to provide more realistic training to younger soldiers in the 327th Infantry Regiment, several AT-4 anti-tank rockets were fired in the exercise along with other anti-armour weapons including the Javelin, Carl Gustaf and TOW (tube-launched, optically tracked and wire-guided) missile, the US Army News Service said.
More than 230 American soldiers from the 327th Infantry Regiment participated in Shared Accord 2017 at the South African Army Combat Training Centre at Lohatla, which at 610 square miles is the largest training area of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, giving troops a unique training ground dominated with thorny bushland and unforgiving, rocky hills. The were supported by a company from 2 SA Infantry Battalion and a platoon from the SA Navy Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS) with 21 SAI the enemy – in total 300 SA Army soldiers took part, 100 US and South African marines and 50 soldiers from US Army Africa headquarters.
During the live fire portion of the exercise, soldiers used explosives to breach an obstacle and fired at pop-up silhouette targets. Packing more of a punch, the anti-armour weapons were then used on stationary vehicle targets -- all while soldiers cleared buildings and supplied cover fire.
Before the live fire exercise, soldiers went through situational training exercise lanes, learned bushcraft skills and fought against a South African-led opposing force. They even practiced protecting defenceless people from a notional rebel group.
The field training exercise was based on a United Nations Chapter 7 Peace Support Operation and focused on scenarios within such operations. The operations were supported by laser guided force-on-force electronic equipment. This enabled the controlling staff to give feedback to the soldiers on their performance in the actual execution of the tasks at hand. Events such as riotous crowd control, area domination patrols, cordon and search operations as well as key leader engagement were executed, with soldiers from both forces participating in these activities.
2nd Battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Eddie Sedlock said, "We focus a lot on live fires back home and trying to work in the constructive STX lanes is a challenge when it comes to time and resources. When we have this opportunity here light bulbs go on all across the force from company commander down to private."
Since many of his Soldiers still have no combat experience, Sedlock said he enjoyed watching their growth throughout the realistic training. Fresh infantrymen, though, weren't the only ones receiving lessons.
"At the battalion level," he said, "I'm learning a lot in exercise design of how to -- with minimal resources -- put soldiers in a position where they have to make decisions on their feet."
Deploying to South Africa, a country where majority of the US soldiers have never been, presented another training test, Army News Service said. Besides personnel, the battalion had to deal with customs officials to transport vehicles and equipment to the country before setting up a tactical operations centre in the bush.
When a Soldier deploys to Iraq or Afghanistan, for instance, there are contractors supporting them. At the South African centre, there was none of that, which added another kinetic aspect to the training, according to Brigadier General William Prendergast, deputy commander of US Army Africa and the exercise's co-commander.
"It is unlike anything they've trained in before," he said of the training centre. "They're putting all those things in operation in an austere environment, which is a huge opportunity for them."
That was the main point of the exercise -- setting the conditions for a successful operation in response to a humanitarian crisis, natural disaster or conflict on the African continent, he added.
The chance to train with a foreign partner also increased interoperability among both nations, another key piece of the exercise. "You shouldn't be sharing business cards at the point of impact," the general said. "We're going out and we're sharing our business cards now."
Although Exercise Shared Accord ended on 3 August, demobilisation and the return of troops and equipment took place between 3 and 10 August.
Shared Accord returns to South Africa every three years and will be held in Rwanda in 2018.