ABU DHABI // Jet fighters soared across the skies and tanks rolled along the beaches to the delight of the thousands who turned out for the largest military spectacle yet seen in the UAE.
Complete with paratroopers, helicopters, surveillance aircraft, fighter jets and ground combat troops, Union Fortress – an Armed Forces event that included a mock hostage rescue from a ship off Abu Dhabi Corniche – was like something out of a movie.
The event was attended by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and sheikhs, military commanders and officials.
All branches of the Armed Forces participated, including the Quick Reaction Force of the Presidential Guard, supported by the UAE Joint Aviation Command, the Navy, the Air Force, Air Defence and the Army.
Sheikh Mohammed said the Armed Forces are “the fortress that renders our country impenetrable”.
“They stand strong-willed and in complete readiness to defend the soil of our nation, to preserve its security and highest interests,” he wrote on Twitter.
The military forces have always proven their ability to achive their missions and have earned worldwide respect.
“The performance of our Armed Forces, its proven track-record, their heroic and honorable role in the fields of glory and sacrifice will go down in the brightest pages of annals of Emirati and Arab military history,” he said.
“I salute the defenders of the homeland, one and all, I am proud of their honorable stances. May Allah have mercy on the souls of our fallen martyrs who sacrificed their lives in the fields of glory and honour.”
Restaurants along the corniche were packed on Thursday afternoon as crowds gathered in front of two viewing screens.
Many children wore military-style uniforms and waved the nation’s flag. A narrator set the scene for the exercise, explaining the objectives of the display before four paratroopers jumped from an aircraft.
The Navy hit the beach as the airborne paratroopers neared the target ship.
As the soldiers “rescued” the hostages, fighter jets flew across the Corniche, in a mock show of strafing targets on the ground.
This was followed by thunderflash pyrotechnics next to the screens as the crowd ran to the other corner of the beach to watch the soldiers.
Crowds cheered on the soldiers as they crawled towards the combat areas. Once all targets were down, and hostages safe, helicopters air-lifted them out and the target ship was set on fire.
The demonstration also showed scenes from the mission room, where orders were given.
Adults and children alike said they were captivated by the action during the 45-minute show, which ended with the Army forces in formation by the national flag on the Breakwater.
An air show by Al Forsan, the aerobatics team of the Air Force, concluded the display.
Some children said they left school early to make sure they could catch the show. One of them, nine-year-old Abdullah Saeed, said he wanted to be a soldier.
“I loved the flying planes and the action,” he said, celebrating the troops’ successes with his brothers. “It was like a movie, but real.”
Abdullah, a Grade 4 pupil at Cambridge International School, said he wanted to “grow up and become one of them”.
“The soldier who dropped out of the sky to save people – I also want to do that for the UAE,” he said.
For others, the event showed that the UAE is prepared for emergency situations.
“I have been in the UAE for 11 years and never seen anything like this,” said Marie Cepickova, 56, an Abu Dhabi resident from the Czech Republic.
“The show scared me a little but also showed that the UAE is prepared for any situation thrown at them. At this point of time, every country has to be ready to react responsibly and UAE has proved that it can.”
It was a family outing for one Emirati father of six, who took his children, ages 2 to 14, to watch the nation’s soldiers in action.
“It is very important for the children to see what the soldiers sacrifice and how hard they train to keep our people safe,” said Khalifa Abdullah, 39. “They need to know what the responsibilities of being in the Army are.”
The event inspired some young Emiratis to say they wanted to join the military.
“The whole demonstration was so perfect,” sayd Ayesha Al Suwaidi, 27, who works for Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (Adco).
“Although I am a lady, I now feel like joining the Army and playing my part for the nation.
“We are so proud of our soldiers and the nation’s sons. They came to the Corniche and gave us all a glimpse of how they work, which gives not only us, but all of Abu Dhabi, a chance to experience the military regimes.”
A group of tourists who were visiting Abu Dhabi for the week said they were glad to catch the Union Fortress event during their trip.
“The whole event was fascinating and I am glad I was in Abu Dhabi for it,” said Himanish Bhattacharjee, 28, from India.
“It is great for the citizens because it instils a sense of safety and pride, and is also good for the Army individuals involved, because it shows them that they are better prepared for such a situation,” he said.