Sunday, February 26, 2017

Training with the Royal Thai Army during Cobra Gold 17

By Spc. Brandon Fox, Company A, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment

I'm surprised at the level of training here in Thailand and with the Thai Soldiers’ level of knowledge. Our experience here has been more of a critique and coaching method instead of something from the ground up such as the crawl, walk, and run method. The Thai military training isn't too different than ours. It's more as if our training complements each other because their training model is so similar.

Two Royal Thai Army soldiers rappel from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter Feb. 15, 2017, Thailand. This was part of Exercise Cobra Gold 17, the largest Theater Security Cooperation exercise in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.  (U.S. Army photo by Major Kelly Haux)
 I've enjoyed the training because of the opportunity to learn from each other and see each other, the U.S. and the Thai Soldiers, from a different point of view. In that way, this type of training is good in building relations with our allies. None of us knows what the future holds or what is right around the corner and this type of training with other nations helps us prepare for an uncertain future. 

A Royal Thai Army Soldier treats a simulated sucking chest wound Feb. 15, 2017, Thailand.   Cobra Gold 17 emphasizes coordination on civic action, such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, seeking to expand regional cooperation and collaboration in these vital areas. (U.S. Army photo by Major Kelly Haux)

If I were to tell other soldiers what to expect to learn or take away from this type of training experience with a foreign military it would be to, first enjoy the unique experience. You'll never have or rarely have another opportunity to train in another country and with their military forces. 

Secondly, always go into the training with an open mind and be open to what your counterparts can teach. 

Lastly, keep up the enthusiasm for training. That type of energy feeds off of each other; we're not here to prove anything to the Thai Soldiers but to show each other what we do. That type of enthusiasm is easily seen here when all of us are working together and supporting one another as Soldiers – you can see it in the Thai soldiers and how enthusiastic they are to train with Americans.

Spc. Fox, sitting at the driver's seat of a humvee during Cobra Gold 17

What do you think? Do you have any experiences related to the above topic? Let us know in the comment section.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Perspective changing experiences in the Pacific

By Staff Sgt. Samuel Northrup
Two goats were slowly led up the hill for the sacrifice. I looked on as one of the locals brought the first goat to be sacrificed near to him. In one movement he cut the animal’s throat open and the blood began to spill out. He prayed as he held the animal and moved ceremoniously around the construction site to ensure the animals blood was properly placed at the right locations for the blessing. Other U.S. Soldiers, most of whom are not accustomed to animal sacrifice, watched in awe. This blessing, a local Filipino custom, was done to help protect the new medical center we were constructing.
Let no goat go to waste. 

This took place around March 2010, during Exercise Balikatan, an annual bilateral exercise between Philippine and U.S. military forces that focuses on partnership, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief capabilities, and force modernization. Back then I was part of the 6th Brigade Engineer Battalion. Our focus was training and working with the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Simultaneously we were also helping out the local population by building a schoolhouse and a new medical center for villagers located at the the island of Luzon, Philippines.

The new school, while still under construction

Local Filipino children pose in front of the finished medical center (before I took a photography course)
Now Balikatan is part of a larger training deployment known as Pacific Pathways that encompasses other countries in the Pacific. Soldiers from selected units (for 2017 it includes 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team) are deployed from one country to the next to train with that country’s military force.
These types of exercises are nothing new for the U.S. Army, but what they have to offer is invaluable for every new group of Soldiers that get to experience them.

Breaking out of the routine

A major benefit of traveling overseas to train with an ally is breaking out of the same training routine. Soldiers back in the U.S. begin to get used to going to the range, live fire exercises, morning PT, etc. They know what to expect, which is not always a good thing.
Now throw Soldiers in a training environment with a foreign military they never trained with and you get some interesting results. Militaries around the world do much of the same training, but the finer details can be different. Some countries may use tactics  we don’t use, forgotten, or just never considered. Seeing it played out gives us the opportunity to learn from them and vice versa.
Going back to Balikatan 2010, the Filipino Army Engineers used rustic, some would consider archaic, construction techniques. One example is a water level (plastic tube filled with water) to determine if two points were the same height. Some of these methods, such as the water level, turned out to be more efficient the ones we used.
This year for Pacific Pathways, our “Ghost Brigade” Soldiers got an opportunity to train with the Royal Thai Army during a Jungle Survival Course. They started fires without modern tools, searched for water and cooked food with barest of essentials.

Spc. James Gersler, Company C, 1-23 Infantry, drinks chicken blood as a substitute for water during the jungle survival course with the Royal Thai Army at Korat, Thailand, Feb. 20, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Kelly Haux)
A Royal Thai Army Soldier from the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry, demonstrates how to make an emergency fire using bamboo during jungle survival training at Camp Surathampitak, Thailand, Feb. 17, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Kelly Haux)

For a young U.S. Soldier, this experience can be an eyeopener. Since 1987, there has been less and less people venturing out to visit nature, according to a study submitted to PNAS. Soldiers do conduct field training exercises, but getting them out into a foreign Jungle with snakes and wild animals is a whole other experience.

"Its good training with the Thai Soldiers, this is a beautiful country and the training has been good building relations between the Thai military and the U.S." -- Spc. James Gersler, Company C. 1-23 Infantry.

"It tastes like Freedom!" -- Pvt. Alexis Fiarito, Combat Engineer, Company A, 23rd Brigade Engineer Battalion, after killing the chicken and drinking its blood.

No chicken shall go to waste

You become better at developing models of the world and your environment when you explore other countries and their cultures. You better understand how they think and how you think. You begin to see more solutions to problems and you can teach those ideas to your junior Soldiers -- essentially affecting another generation of Soldiers with the training you experienced.

What do you think? Do you have any experiences related to the above topic? Let us know in the comment section.