This week marked the end of a large scale joint infantry training exercise between the IDF and US military: The Israeli participants included hundreds of warriors from the Egoz guerilla warfare unit in the Golani Brigade, while the Americans sent 173 paratroops from the US European Command.
The forces trained together for more than a week, shoulder to shoulder, in various scenarios which drilled the troops' basic skills. The troops also took part in joint training invasions against an urban warfare training center near the Tze'elim base in the south, which is meant to simulate a village with dozens of armed enemy militants.
The troops also practiced taking over enemy controlled territory in one of the villages in the north, which was meant to simulate the transition from fighting in mountainous terrain to an urban setting. The troops also performed joint shooting drills and physical fitness training.
160 camouflage-clad American paratroopers landed at Ben-Gurion Airport ahead of the exercise, and immediately boarded buses which took them to the southern training grounds to meet their counterparts from Egoz. The orders on the radio channels during the exercises were in English only, and the safety guidelines for the drill were those used by the Israeli hosts - which tend to be more strict. Due to the differences in safety protocols between the militaries, the soldiers fired only blanks when training outside of the shooting range.
The American military is considered lenient in its safety protocols in comparison to the IDF. American troops, for example, are allowed to: Count their hits at the shooting range while their friends continue to fire, check their own rifles after a range without the range commander's verification, and often walk around with a round in the chamber.
In order to still maintain the live fire effect during the drills, the IDF used several pyrotechnic effects. "It was an interesting exercise," an officer from the Egoz unit told Ynet, "We learned alot from the drills."
The American force came to Israel with its guns, including assault rifles, 7.62 mm machine guns, sniper rifles, and personal combat gear.
At the height of the exercise, on the road to one of the simulated objectives, the forces split into two groups: The attack force, which included dozens of Golani fights and American soldiers, attacked the second force which simulated enemy militants in the target village. The forces switched places the next day in order to complete the exercise.
The soldiers from both militaries also conducted training ambushes of different types, and trained in different elements of camouflage, and fighting in thicket.
"We never identified the enemy we were training against as Hamas or Hezbollah. For us and them terror is terror," an IDF officer said. "In contrast to us, the American infantry is based more on larger troop numbers and more fire power. We are more creative and flexible with our smaller forces. This difference results in them getting 'stuck' in the entrance to a target position. Another difference that we noticed was the approach: We teach our solders to be independent and creative on the battlefield, while they work according to set orders and protocol, No one moves until everyone is in place."
An additional and not surprising difference came about in the technologies used: Egoz fighters noticed that the Americans relied on computer and GPS during every navigation, while the IDF's infantry commanders are required to learn their paths ahead of time from a map, memorizing the topography in the classic manner - using a compass. Only using a GPS as a backup.
"Like us, the American infantry forces are also divided into regiments, mortars, snipers, UAV operators etc," the officer said. "They said they left the exercise saying a big 'wow.' They didn't expect to encounter such a high level of training. They learned alot of elements and techniques like camouflage from us. They were also excited by our varied use of Oketz dogs."
The officer added that the forces avoided holding shooting or fitness competitions between the sides. The American solders "did Shabbat" at Nevatim Airbase, visited Masada and Jerusalem, and held a running competition in a Druze village in the north. After the exercise, the troops returned to their home base in Italy.