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The goshawk's flight

By 1st Lt. Luis Sánchez
First published in
SFOR Informer#121, September 5, 2001

As a bird of prey prepares its claws and beak to be ready for the next hunt, Task Force "Alcantara" (Mechanised infantry of the Spanish Battle Group) regularly trains. From Aug. 20 to 24, soldiers performed a series of exercises, based on possible use of force in accordance with SFOR's mission. They were backed by the Multinational Army Aviation Battalion, which provided manoeuvrability and quick reaction response anywhere throughout the Spanish Area of Responsibility (AoR).

Mostar/Trebinje - Different units from the Spanish Battle Group (SPGT XVI) composed of Mechanised Infantry from "Castilla 16" Regiment and Cavalry troops were involved in a series of training exercises. The goal was not only to maintain proficiency but also to show their presence across the whole AoR (the Federation and Republika Srpska). Novel to this exercise was the large size of the engagement and the use of helicopter transport for mechanised forces. Usually the forces are deployed by armoured personnel carriers (BMR-600).
Before the operations, there were co-ordinated briefings with the helicopters' crews. All the passengers were trained at Mostar Airport on how to board and disembark safely from a chopper.
Scenarios and goals
The commander of Task Force Alcantara, Lt. Col. Aurelio Quintanilla Burgos, stated: "We are training the unit on common missions in our AoR. We are a mechanised force, now we have the opportunity to work with aerial vehicles (helicopters) and prepare better for our task."
The scenarios were varied, from monitoring and providing security to Displaced Persons and Returnees to authorities protection. They also involved supporting the International Police Task Force and other international organisations in their missions, the reinforcement of the Spanish Marine detachment in Trebinje, and other situations based on past experiences or probability for future missions, always in the framework of SFOR duties.
The Operation Centre had been working for a long time in co-ordinating the action. The commander, Capt. Juan Castroviejo García, commented: "This series of exercises has a double goal: on one side our troops maintain their skills in co-operation with other means different from ours in a possible SFOR context. On the other side we improve the cohesion of the whole unit working in our zone." This does not mean that the daily missions have been postponed, quite the opposite. The SPGT XVI has made a great effort in not overlooking anything, and normality was the common denominator these days.
"Azor" (goshawk) exercise
All the exercises had bird names. The second was goshawk operation that started on Aug. 22, when several trucks full of soldiers arrived at Mostar Airport. Following the instructions of the DETAIR (French Air Detachment) staff, they were waiting for the moment to embark. On the other side of the runway, the helicopters' crews were checking their aircrafts: two Spanish "Cougars" and one French "Puma."
The training involved two companies and a command post. Morale was high; a lot of them had not flown by chopper before and expectations were high. Soon the turbines broke the silence and the fully equipped troops orderly embarked. Goshawk operation was under way. It was an aerial raid over one hot spot. Speedily and smartly, like the flight of the Goshawk, the choppers reached the area, landing in different points. In seconds, infantrymen marked and secured the landing zones. All the roads were blocked with Armoured Personnel Carriers; there were check points everywhere. A safety deployment impeded any unnoticed movement by demonstrators, rebels forces or any other possible subversive elements.
A rebel group had been detected in Bravenik (a range near there), and a Marine platoon was deployed to take control. The marines landed and started shooting their assault rifles and machine guns; it was a live-fire exercise. Several hundred metres in front of them, there was a simulated rebel position. Once under control, they re-deployed.
Capt. Ernesto Castro Rivero, Coy infantry commander commented: "These exercises are really good. We can continue performing our mission, showing presence in our AoR and providing a tactical framework."
The exercise continued during the night with surveillance missions and controls of the border. The Spanish Battle Group continued training to maintain and improve skills. For soldiers, inactivity is the worst foe.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: Spain
Training and Exercises