U.S. joint capabilities support Thai partners

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. William Banton
  • Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs
The 3rd Wing validated its joint and combined capabilities this week when five C-17 Globemaster III left Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson for Thailand to airdrop paratroopers from the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, to the joint and combined exercise Cobra Gold 2014.

Cobra Gold, an annual exercise providing tactical, humanitarian and civil assistance, brings together multiple nations cooperating in areas of common interest to support the security and stability of the Asia-Pacific region.

"This is the 33rd iteration of Cobra Gold and as we look at the U.S. continuing to partner with our Pacific allies, Thailand in particular, this exercise is what makes it happen," said Army Capt. Zachary Miller, the future operations planner for Cobra Gold.

"From the top down, this exercise was important to demonstrate to the Thai allies, our friendship and U.S. security cooperation," said Col. Tony Schenk, the mission commander from the 437th Operations Group at Joint Base Charleston, S.C.

The Air Force and Army planners started working in October to execute the mission, Schenk said.

The planners looked at many training aspects, from how to keep Soldiers hydrated and rested on an 18-hour flight, to the gear needed to leave Alaska and operate in the much different environment of Thailand. These considerations were important because the U.S. contingent departed subfreezing arctic conditions and then jumped into a humid tropical environment, Miller said.

The planning also involved integrating airlift assets from three Air Force wings: the 3rd Wing from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson; the 62nd Airlift Wing from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; and the 437th Airlift Wing from Joint Base Charleston. The wings were from separate major commands and operated within multiple geographic combatant commands.

Army personnel coordinated diplomatic clearances for multiple countries and worked with Japanese and Thai officials to coordinate air space. To reach the final destination, the pilots also had to accomplish multiple air refuelings.

"The Air Force, the C-17 crews specifically, had the opportunity to work directly with our partners, the 4/25, to project that global power and to demonstrate exactly what our airborne brethren bring to the fight, as well as our ability to deliver them worldwide," said Capt. Christopher Prentiss, the lead Air Force mission planner, from the 437th OG.

"This exercise was our opportunity to demonstrate, in conjunction with the Army, our capability to go anywhere in the world and provide humanitarian and disaster relief. These exercises translate into real-world operations such as the 3rd Wing's participation in Operation Tomodachi, which showcased the C-17s global airlift capability."

Schenk described the relationship between the Air Force and Army as one of synergy. The colonel highlighted the importance of continuing to develop the relationship with Army counterparts and the 4/25th IBCT.

"They can't do what they do without us and vice versa," Schenk said. "The reason we have those airplanes is to demonstrate those capabilities. We have crew members that always strive to be outstanding and the Army has soldiers whose goal is to be outstanding. In this particular exercise, we strove for perfection together and I think that Col. (Matt) McFarlane (the 4/25 IBCT commander) and I had a great relationship and we executed it together."

McFarlane said he was proud of the paratroopers' accomplishment as they faced the challenges of traversing the globe and jumping into tropical conditions, and then, with little sleep, traveled back to jump into Alaska.

"I couldn't be more proud to serve with these paratroopers and work with this Joint team," McFarlane said. "The loadmasters and pilots put (a lot of work) into the two aerial (refueling missions) and their updates to work with our team to make sure we can synchronize the jump based off of changes that happened in the air."