CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan -- The integration of U.S. and U.K. forces has proven to be a powerful new asset for the coalition forces in Afghanistan. One U.S. Marine Corps pilot who is serving here as a U.K. pilot, knew this was going to be a strong partnership long ago.
U.S. Marine Maj. Joshua Nelson, a Marine CH-46E "Sea Knight" pilot, is currently flying Mk4 "Sea Kings" while serving with 846 Naval Air Squadron, Commando Helicopter Force, through the Marine Corps Foreign Personnel Exchange Program, where he has served for a year and a half.
"I was quite fortunate to get involved in the exchange program" Nelson said. "I put in an application because I had a desire to go to Europe and Marines are usually not stationed in Europe. It provided a great opportunity, a chance to fly a different aircraft and broaden my horizons."
The MCFPEP began during combined operations in World War II when a critical need to exchange and standardize operational doctrines between allied forces was identified, according to Marine Corps Order 5700.4E. More recently, a reduction in U.S. military presence in several regions around the world has created a need for closer relationships between friendly nations and coalition partners. MCFPEP is one means of continuing a long-term presence and association among military counterparts to enhance worldwide security cooperation.
Nelson joined 846 Naval Air Squadron, based at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, Somerset, England in 2009.
"This is quite a unique position to actually be fully immersed in their flying and military cultures and still maintain that Marine Corps edge," said Nelson. "There were no difficulties integrating into their squadron though."
Nelson spent his first four months breaking through the language barrier, and learning to fly the Sea King.
"Believe it or not, the language barrier was probably the biggest challenge," he said. "It took me at least three or four months just to understand what they were saying while talking on the radio. As a pilot, you become familiar with what they say on the radios. As it changes going to a different country, it takes a little while to understand and anticipate what they say. As a result, I was always fairly slow on the radio. When they learned who I was, they started talking slower. Then, it didn’t take long for me to catch on and get up to speed."
Transitioning from the CH-46E Sea Knight to the Sea King was slightly easier than breaking the language barrier. Both aircraft transport troops and cargo, and can internally and externally carry approximately the same weight. With so many similarities between the aircraft, it was easy for Nelson to familiarize himself with the squadron’s operations.
"He is a very experienced pilot," explained U.K. Lt. Jon Talmage, a Sea King pilot who works with Nelson. "The knowledge he has as a pilot helped him transition well to flying the Sea King and integrate into the squadron."
The experience Nelson brings to the Sea King squadrons comes from nearly nine years of flying the Sea Knight. During this time he became a Weapons and Tactics Instructor. This combined knowledge allows him to aid both U.S. and U.K. forces as they work together.
"It has been easier to work with American squadrons because he understands the tactics, techniques and procedures," said Maj. Harry Robins, Sea King’s commanding officer. "To have him here, especially as a [Weapons and Tactics Instructor], it makes it much easier for us to converse with the USMC, to understand what they are trying to do and understand their tactics.
"We have regular [Tactics, Techniques and Procedures] meetings, and during the last one he was an important part in explaining how we’re doing things, how the USMC does business and integrating them both," Robins explained. "Because he understands the American procedures, he has been able to translate them to our procedures and knit them together."
The MCFPEP provided Nelson with a unique opportunity to aid both countries in making their procedures better.
This program allows both forces the opportunity to see how the other works and ask questions about how they each operate. Then, through shared learning experiences, they combine their old and new knowledge and work to make things better, Robins explained.
Nelson is excited to have the opportunity to work with both countries simultaneously through the U.K.’s Joint Aviation Group, which serves under the U.S. Marine Corps’ 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). Together the U.S. and U.K. support the International Security Assistance Force’s overall mission, which is focused on protecting the population and maintaining the security of the Afghan citizens.