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Home : News : Overseas Operations
NEWS | June 12, 2024

NY National Guard Strengthens Bonds with Allies in Morocco

By Avery Schneider, New York National Guard

TANTAN, Morocco - More than 480 New York National Guard Soldiers trained alongside other U.S. troops and allies in the Moroccan desert May 21-31, strengthening one of America’s oldest international bonds.

The Guardsmen, assigned to 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, played critical roles in the 20th edition of African Lion, U.S. Africa Command’s premier exercise and the largest U.S. military training event on the African continent.

This year’s exercise integrated more than 8,100 participants across 27 nations and NATO, with live training events in Morocco, Tunisia, Ghana and Senegal. The exercise enhanced regional cooperation and security in North and West Africa while countering strategic competitors.

“African Lion presented a distinct opportunity for our Citizen-Soldiers to test their readiness to deploy, fight and win alongside members of the joint force and our partners and allies,” said Col. Bradley Frank, commander of the 27th brigade. “Our team’s success during African Lion is a testament to the essential role the National Guard plays in national defense.”

The 27th’s presence in Morocco included an infantry battalion, a medical company, a combat engineer platoon and a portion of the brigade’s headquarters.

• More than 240 Soldiers from the Utica-based 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment, trained on individual skills and combined arms tactics, including the use of mortars, machine guns, Javelin anti-tank systems, TOW anti-tank missiles, and Carl Gustaf recoilless rifles.

• More than 60 Soldiers from the Buffalo-based Charlie Company, 427th Brigade Support Battalion, cared for U.S. service members and NATO allies with a fully operational Role II medical facility. The unit also trained and exchanged knowledge with joint forces and the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces.

• More than 30 Soldiers from the Lockport-based Bravo Company, 152nd Brigade Engineer Battalion, provided engineer support to the 2-108th Infantry and training for the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces alongside the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve’s 6th Engineer Support Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group.

In addition to overseeing its Soldiers, the 27th IBCT headquarters served as the command-and-control element for more than 130 active-duty and reserve members of U.S. joint forces and more than 40 members of the Italian Armed Forces’ Joint Force Headquarters.

Nearly 100 Soldiers from the brigade’s 1st Battalion, 258th Field Artillery Regiment, also fired their M119 105 mm howitzers in Tunisia from April to May alongside Tunisian Armed Forces and National Guard units from Maryland and Texas as part of African Lion.

After becoming one of the first countries to recognize the newly independent United States, Morocco formally recognized the United States with a treaty of peace and friendship in 1786. It is the longest unbroken relationship in U.S. history.

Today, Morocco and the United States share common concerns and consult closely on security, political, and economic issues and sustainable development. The country was designated a major non-NATO ally in 2004, the same year African Lion began.

And while 2024 marks the 20th year of African Lion, it also marks the first time New York National Guardsmen have participated in the exercise.

“Morocco is one of our closest and oldest allies, with a friendship dating back to the founding of the United States,” said Lt. Col. Frank Engle, commander of the 2-108th Infantry. “Being part of this training gave every Soldier the opportunity to experience the depth and strength of that relationship while playing a personal role in continuing to build it.”

For the New York National Guard, participation in African Lion is a welcome addition to its record of more than two decades of direct ties with allies and partners in Africa.

• As part of the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program, New York and South Africa developed the first state partnership relationship on the continent in 2003. They have sustained the relationship with annual exchanges and training in both countries.

• 1,100 Soldiers from the 27th IBCT’s 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, conducted security operations at U.S. installations in Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia from 2022 through 2023.

African Lion offered the kind of “Army life” experience some New Yorkers only get in the National Guard. For a select few, the mission to Morocco served as a celebration of their first overseas trip.

“I was a little scared at first just because I’ve never done it before. But it wasn’t so bad,” said Spc. Frances Burnett, a unit supply specialist assigned to 2-108’s headquarters company and full-time health science student at the State University of New York at Binghamton. “I’m really happy the military let me experience this.”

Burnett and her fellow Soldiers got firsthand exposure to training with all ranks of the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces in their desert camps, experienced the welcoming Moroccan culture, sampled local cuisine and explored life in the Atlantic beachside city of Agadir.

The culminating events of African Lion for the 27th were two brigade-level joint, combined live-fire exercises in front of senior U.S. and Moroccan military officials and representatives from partner and allied nations across Europe and Africa.

The exercises incorporated air power demonstrations by Moroccan F-16 fighter jets and U.S. Apache helicopters, ground maneuver with Humvees, trucks, tanks, and tracked artillery firing machine guns and anti-tank missiles, a ground-to-air medical evacuation, heavy equipment recovery, and a launch of rockets from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.

“Training like this strengthens the bond between the U.S. and Morocco, giving each of our militaries and their Soldiers the repetitions and familiarity they need to fight and win together on the battlefield,” Frank said.