HURLBURT FIELD, FL – More than 1,900 Special Operations Forces and support personnel descended on the Gulf Coast to participate in Exercise Emerald Warrior Feb. 28 through March 9.
Emerald Warrior is designed to provide irregular warfare training at the tactical and operational levels, with emphasis on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; joint close air support, tactical airlift, counterinsurgency, urban operations, civilian casualty avoidance, patterns of life, information operations, language, and the complex battlefield integration of SOF, conventional forces, interagency and non-governmental organizations.
According to exercise director Air Force Col. Bruce Taylor, that is exactly what it does.
“Our big 5-meter target right now is pre-deployment training for Special Operations Forces, that’s both the air side and the ground side,” Taylor said. “These guys are getting ready to go to war, some of these guys will be deploying out very shortly and we want to get them a taste of what they might see here in the next coming months.”
The exercise operational area spanned three states and covered more than 1.5 million acres, which provided the participants something very similar to what they would face in a combat environment.
“A lot of exercises have a relatively small area of operations that they have to abide by, physical space…we’re not constrained so much by that,” Taylor said. “Most Emerald Warriors will operate in five or six Joint Operating Areas, that’s over 1.5 million acres, a lot of air space and the time to get there and the distance of separation is a lot more realistic than a lot of other exercises can get.”
One of the biggest benefits of Emerald Warrior is that the geographic area in which it takes place provides several different terrain environments — from triple canopy to desert to littoral areas — for the participants to operate in.
“I think this is a very good exercise, it’s one of the best exercises I’ve been involved in [during] my 27 years,” Taylor said. “Short of combat, I don’t think I’ve seen the combat environment replicated with this amount of realism and this amount of actual free-play. We do a pretty good job, I think, giving a dynamic environment to our training audience, and I don’t know if there is another exercise anywhere that I’ve gone to that will give this level of fidelity in such a small time and space with so many different players.”
There were forces from every branch of the U.S. military involved in the exercise, as well as participants from partner nations, to include the United Kingdom and Poland. With most military action today involving coalition and partner nations, working on these capabilities takes on even greater importance during an exercise like Emerald Warrior.
“What we want to do is allow partner nation participation at Emerald Warrior, that’s an important idea for SOCOM, and it’s actually an important idea in our national security; to use our coalition partner nation participants in exercises because that’s what we’re going to use in the real world,” Taylor said. “It builds trust in the international community, and it helps us prosecute the war more effectively, and it’s important that we get our coalition partners involved.”
Mike Brennan, Emerald Warrior Joint Exercise Control Group planner, added this was the second consecutive year all components of USSOCOM, as well as all branches of service within the Department of Defense, participated.
Over the course of the exercise, the skies above were filled with aircraft across the spectrum of Special Operations. The range of aircraft, from Marine Corps medium lift helicopters to Army attack helicopters to Air Force tilt rotor aircraft and Special Operations gunships, provided the ground forces something they seldom have in other training venues.
“One of the things that I think the ground component sees here is a huge volume of available air assets they just frankly can’t get in garrison or most any other exercise, especially for such an intense two week training period,” Taylor said.
While the exercise was a success, Taylor stated it could not have been possible without help from a multitude of different agencies. An important part of the exercise is practicing the “fifth SOF truth” – “Most Special Operations require non-SOF support.”
“We rely on the good graces of a number of entities, both on base and off base, and in the Department of Defense community to help us put this together. We can’t do it without the help of a lot of others,” said Taylor. “It goes to those SOF truths where you don’t just do it alone, you need the help from conventional forces, and we need help from entities across the spectrum.”
Brennan added, “Emerald Warrior is a SOF exercise that brings conventional assets to an irregular war scenario for integration.”
As the role of Special Operations Forces looks as if it will increase in the future, exercises such as Emerald Warrior will continue to play a significant role in the readiness of SOF.
“We need to be ready to prosecute the nations business on a moment’s notice; we need to be well trained, I believe we need to have an annual exercise [such as Emerald Warrior], at the least, in order to make sure we don’t lose those skills,” said Taylor. “A lot of what goes on at Emerald Warrior is perishable … if we don’t continue to work with our joint partners and our coalition forces, [we] probably won’t get any better [at joint operations. We need that continual contact with both our coalition partners and our joint partners.”