Across a vast landscape speckled with shrubbery, two armies met on a battlefield intent on defeating a common adversary.
From planning and coordination all the way through to execution and battle tracking, U.S. and Egyptian forces collaborated during Exercise Bright Star 2017 at Mohamed Naguib Military Base, Egypt from Sept. 10 through 20.
About 200 Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment “Ghost,” 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division deployed from Camp Buehring, Kuwait to take part in the bilateral U.S. Central Command exercise hosted by the Egyptian Ministry of Defense to enhance regional security, promote and improve interoperability.
The first Bright Star exercise took place in 1981, and this particular exercise is the first one since 2009.
“Exercise Bright Star is a chance for the United States and the Arab Republic of Egypt to reaffirm our commitment to each other and to regional stability,” said Capt. Bryan Groves, commander of Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team. “I feel like Bright Star is a great chance to showcase interoperability between our two nations going forward and trying to show our commitment to providing long-term stability for this region.”
The exercise was conducted in three parts — a command-post exercise, a field training exercise and a senior leader seminar, all designed to prepare partner forces so that they are ready to meet challenges at the tactical level.
The exercise kicked off with the CPX while the company’s tanks, Humvees, M88 Recovery Vehicles and other necessary support equipment were offloaded from the ship and onto heavy equipment transport systems at the port of Alexandria.
Meanwhile, at Mohamed Naguib Military Base, officers and noncommissioned officers of the Ghost Battalion staff went through the steps of the military decision-making process with their Egyptian counterparts, planning a simulated battle of coalition forces against an unconventional threat down to the smallest details.
“We were trying to have both sides — U.S. and Egyptian — participate together and lead the battalion in their mission, so they could see how we run a battle staff, and so that we could see how they run a battle staff,” said 2nd Lt. Alan-Michael Alvarado, the battalion’s assistant intelligence officer.
Alvarado said all the staff sections — U.S. and Egyptian — collaborated, shared information and gave the commanders a good, accurate picture of what was happening on the simulated battlefield so they could make decisions with the best information available.
“I feel like it went pretty [well],” said Alvarado, a native of San Antonio, Texas. “It was really decisive.”
“I think the ultimate benefit was different nations understanding each other’s staff functions,” said Capt. Lukas Rennebaum, the battalion assistant operations officer. “There was a shared understanding, valuable experience and working with a different perspective. They had different perspectives on things that we didn’t have.”
That same spirit of cooperation and collaboration bled over into the field training exercise, during which Groves’s troops maneuvered through offensive and defensive lanes with their Egyptian counterparts.
“This was a chance for my company to get after its training here in Egypt,” said Groves, a native of North Kingstown, Rhode Island. “We wanted to focus on hitting some of our mission essential tasks. One of the big things we were able to get after was our area defense lane. We did this in conjunction with the Egyptian army. [We had] great success on that being able to collaborate on many different levels from our [command and control] nodes to our actual battle positions. It was a great chance for our two countries to get together and show that not only can we get after larger strategic tasks, but we can get after operational tasks, too.”
Interacting with their Egyptian counterparts helped the Soldiers of Charlie Company view a common problem and a common scenario in a different way.
“[This experience] has shown them where we are as far as our own personal training and also how an allied nation is with its training,” said 1st Lt. Thomas Bouras, platoon leader of 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment. “Their tactics are very different from ours, and it showed [the Soldiers] how different people approach problem sets that we’ve been working on this past year.”
Bouras came into the Bright Star experience with very specific lessons he wanted his Soldiers to glean from working with a partner nation.
“It’s important to see on this grand scale with the open desert like this, you can actually see the thought process that commanders have in moving their forces across the battlefield, and you can see our differences in our maneuver patterns,” said Bouras, a native of Rowlett, Texas. “The significance is opening both our partners and ourselves to the other’s tactics and their priorities in thinking.”
“I came with an open mind just trying to learn the way [the Egyptian soldiers] live and what are the differences in our militaries,” said Spc. Ashton Munroe, a gunner assigned to 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment. “I think I got a lot of training out of the exercise. It was fun working with the Egyptians, getting to see their tanks and weapon systems. It’s been a pretty cool experience.”
Groves said the Soldiers ultimately benefitted from seeing their counterpart as not so different from themselves — different faces, different names, different tactics, same goal.
“I think the Soldiers take a lot away from exercises such as Bright Star,” Groves said. “I think it’s one thing to brief how the U.S. plays a role in this region in terms of stability and security, but it’s another thing for the Soldier to actually see it on the lowest level, to be able to internalize it by actually watching their Egyptian counterpart, whether that be a PFC or a sergeant or a lieutenant, actually conducting the same operation as they are.”
Relationships were forged, and mutual trust was built as Egyptian soldiers came and offered to help the Ghost Battalion Soldiers with their maintenance tasks.
“I already knew when we got off the plane that this was going to be a good experience just by the way they interacted with us and the way that they seemed to love to help us with everything,” said Munroe, a native of Miami, Florida.
“I’ve enjoyed working with the Egyptians,” said Sgt. Michael Bishop, a gunner assigned to 1st Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment. “They are very very friendly. I was really excited to come to Egypt and to get to train with them.”
The Soldiers got an opportunity to experience some Egyptian scenery and culture on a day off before the hard work began.
“Already my company was able to attend a day at the beach down in Alexandria,” Groves said. “It was a great event and a great way for our Soldiers to take in more than just the training area adjacent to Mohamed Naguib Military Base. They were able to interact with local Egyptians and take in the scenery, the culture, the cuisine, all great factors in helping my Soldiers build a better picture of exactly what and who the Egyptians are.”
With the Soldiers refreshed and after maintenance, mission planning, rehearsals, more maintenance, more planning, and more rehearsals, 14 tank crews from Charlie Company mounted up and headed for the live-fire range, where they would be joined by two Egyptian air force F-16 Fighting Falcons, four Mil Mi-8 Hip helicopters, air defense artillery assets, mortars, armored personnel carriers loaded with mechanized infantrymen and 22 M1A1 Egyptian tank crews.
Aircraft fired missiles. Mortarmen hung rounds. Tank crews engaged targets. It all came together in a symphony of booms and bangs.
In the end, the “battlefield” was awash with dust kicked up from the tracks of 70-ton behemoths, smoke from the smoldering targets, some riddled with holes, some engulfed in flame.
“I had high expectations coming into Bright Star 17, just because this operation has been going on for many years since 1981 up until 2009,” Groves said. “It has a storied and great legacy here, and I know that the Egyptian army is a professional and well-trained army, so coming into this I knew that this would be a well-resourced, well-planned, and well-executed event. I wasn’t disappointed. The Egyptian army is a truly well-trained army. They are professionals in every sense of the word, and their commitment to making this exercise safe, deliberate and well-executed has shown through and through.”