AL QUWEIRA, Jordan — It’s hot, barren and isolated, and the living conditions for the 2,400 Marines here assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, are spartan. But the experience in Jordan’s desert environment is worth it, say Marines participating in the multi-national Eager Lion exercise here that ends Thursday. “The training here is a lot better than what we’re used to getting,” Staff Sgt. Josh Wartchow said. “There is only so many places in America where we go” for training.
Some Marines noted the conditions would have been ideal before a deployment to Afghanistan because of the geological and environmental similarities. There is the heat to contend with, and the physical challenges of the rocky desert terrain, Wartchow said. “We actually get to put all of that to the test.” The best thing for the Marines right now “is hard and interesting training in an environment that might prove challenging and might prove unusual,” said Brig. Gen. Gregg Olson, commander of Marine Corps Forces Central Command (Fwd). Officials have emphasized that the exercise, an annual event, was not related to the civil war in neighboring Syria, though the U.S. announced Saturday that it would leave behind a battery of F-16s and Patriot missiles after the exercise ends at the request of Jordan, which is concerned about possible threats from the war waging on its border. The overwhelming consensus among the Marines participating in the 12-day exercise was that Jordan, with its vast open spaces, offers a better training ground than can be found in the U.S., where there are restrictions on firing ranges. “Here, this would be a natural fighting environment for us and scouts. It’s more of a real life situation versus being back stateside,” said Sgt. Robert Driver during a light armored vehicle live fire exercise. About 5,000 U.S. troops from all branches of service were among the 8,000 personnel from 19 countries participating. With Jordan playing host, the U.S. troops found their patience tested, as they followed the lead of the Jordanian military during various exercises. The Jordanians would frequently change scheduled events, often leaving U.S. Marines all geared up with nowhere to go. “Any time you’re dealing with two cultures, even military cultures, you’re still going to have to account for training differences, cultural differences and difference in experience levels,” Olson said. The difference in experience was most obvious on joint patrols where the Americans, battle hardened from more than a decade of war, often found the Jordanian army’s tactics unusual and confusing. “They have the same formations we do... they do things a little bit differently,” said Capt. Raymond Kaster, a company commander. But, he had no quibble with the Jordanians’ abilities. “They still talk about how they look up to us. But they are on par as far as ground tactics,” Kaster said. The Jordanians were eager for feedback from U.S. Marines. On one patrol, this led to three impromptu classroom-like sessions in which Jordanians of various ranks gathered around a U.S. Marine drawing lines in the sand to explain tactics and maneuvers. “We have a certain way of approaching our field training... but that doesn’t mean we don’t have some things they can learn from us; correspondingly we can learn from them,” Olson said. The Jordanian armed forces — established by the British in the 1920s as the “Arab Legion” — traditionally have been considered among the best-trained and most capable in the Arab world. The force, numbering about 100,000 members, has fought in a series of wars against Israel and in other conflicts, and has provided military troops and advisers to several nations in the Middle East. The Jordanian military is also one of the largest contributors to U.N. peacekeeping missions worldwide. Wartchow said he enjoyed watching how his Jordanian counterpart dealt with his troops. “We get to learn their point of view and how they deal with certain aspects of this training,” Wartchow said. He also encouraged his junior Marines to spend time with their counterparts. “They see that the host nation guys are exactly the same as they are,” Wartchow said. “They’re 20-something years old, they like Facebook, they like to sit around, eat, smoke cigarettes and tell stories.”