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US, Thai friendship strengthens during joint exercise

Staff Sgt. Zachary Asmus, a combat controller from the 320th Special Tactics Squadron, demonstrates how to conduct urban close air support as a member from the Royal Thai Air Force 3rd Special Tactics Battalion observes Feb. 4, 2014 in a town near Udon Thani, Thailand. A team of combat controllers from the 320th STS worked with their Thai counterparts during the training exchange, focused on building skills in Joint Terminal Air Control. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Staff Sgt. Zachary Asmus, a combat controller from the 320th Special Tactics Squadron, demonstrates how to conduct urban close air support as a member from the Royal Thai Air Force 3rd Special Tactics Battalion observes Feb. 4, 2014 in a town near Udon Thani, Thailand. A team of combat controllers from the 320th STS worked with their Thai counterparts during the training exchange, focused on building skills in Joint Terminal Air Control. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Staff Sgt. Javier Nunez, 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron, Deployed Aircraft Ground Response Element team member, demonstrates how to search a deceased person during a close quarter combat training scenario held Jan. 31, 2014 during Exercise Teak Torch held in Udon Thani, Thailand. This scenario-based training gave both the 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron DAGRE Team and their Royal Thai Air Force counterparts an opportunity to share different tactics and techniques. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Staff Sgt. Javier Nunez, 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron, Deployed Aircraft Ground Response Element team member, demonstrates how to search a deceased person during a close quarter combat training scenario held Jan. 31, 2014 during Exercise Teak Torch held in Udon Thani, Thailand. This scenario-based training gave both the 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron DAGRE Team and their Royal Thai Air Force counterparts an opportunity to share different tactics and techniques. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Tech. Sgt. David Wheeler, a loadmaster from the 17th Special Operations Squadron, drops a simulated airdrop training bundle from an MC-130P Combat Shadow over a drop zone near Udon Thani, Thailand. The MC-130P Combat Shadows from the 17th SOS are part of the 353rd Special Operations Group detachment from Kadena Air Base, Japan, in Thailand to participate in Exercise Teak Torch. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Tech. Sgt. David Wheeler drops an airdrop training bundle from an MC-130P Combat Shadow over a drop zone near Udon Thani, Thailand. The MC-130P Combat Shadows from the 17th SOS are part of the 353rd Special Operations Group detachment from Kadena Air Base, Japan, in Thailand to participate in Exercise Teak Torch. Wheeler is a loadmaster from the 17th Special Operations Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Two members from the Royal Thai Air Force Security Forces provides security as the rest of the team clears the rooms during a close quarter combat training scenario held Jan. 31, 2014 during Exercise Teak Torch in Udon Thani, Thailand. The scenario-based training gave both the 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron Deployed Aircraft Ground Response Element Team and their Royal Thai Air Force counterparts an opportunity to share different tactics and techniques. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Two members from the Royal Thai air force security forces provides security as the rest of the team clears the rooms during a close quarter combat training scenario held Jan. 31, 2014, during Exercise Teak Torch in Udon Thani, Thailand. The scenario-based training gave both the 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron Deployed Aircraft Ground Response Element Team and their Thai counterparts an opportunity to share different tactics and techniques. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS) -- Members from the 353rd Special Operations Group joined members of the Royal Thai air force for Exercise Teak Torch Jan. 27 through Feb. 7 in Udon Thani, Thailand.

"This exercise is conducted to focus on exchanges with our Thai counterparts in order to enhance interoperability through combined training with U.S. Air Force Special Operations and host nation forces," said Maj. Chandler Depenbrock, the Teak Torch mission commander.

Throughout the 2-week exercise, different career fields from around the 353rd SOG were able to link up with their Thai counterparts. The cultural exchanges included aircrews from the 17th Special Operations Squadron, maintainers from the 353rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron, combat controllers from the 320th Special Tactics Squadron, Defense Air Ground Response Element teams, independent medical technicians, a flight doctor, as well as survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists, all from 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron.

For many the first week of exchanges took place in the classroom while the second half gave each group a chance to put their newfound knowledge to the test.

"We focused on training for combat casualty evacuation and tactical combat casualty care," said Lt. Col. Mark Anderson, the 353rd Special Operations Group, surgeon general. "They trained us on local plants and snakes as well as their experiences in flood relief. Our Thai counterparts were actively engaged and extremely motivated, which made for a productive exchange."

After holding survival exchanges with the U.S. and Thai pilots along with Royal Thai security forces, Tech. Sgt. Cody Lefever, a SERE specialist with the 353rd SOSS, learned that some parts of survival are universal around the world.

"Their survival school is very similar to our school," Lefever said. "All their pilots had an understanding of survival skills. We shared how to build snares, procure water from plants, build fires and construct ground-to-air signals while the Thai pilots shared with us their ideas and concepts with these same skills."

While learning how to improve their skills in their own career fields is the focus for both the Thais and Americans, there was more than just building technical expertise.

"We made new friends," Anderson said. "We were able to participate in several events outside of training as well, which solidified long lasting friendships."

"This is my third time on this exercise," said Staff Sgt. Michael Garrison, a response element team leader with the 353rd SOSS. "We have good camaraderie. The Thais love working with Americans, and we love working with the Thais. These exchanges help us learn how to communicate better and that will definitely help if we ever have to work together in a real world operation."

While the 353rd SOG has been working with the RTAF since 1991 and has completed more than 60 training exercises together, the benefits are built upon each other each year.

"Being able to adapt and work in different constructs and different societies are skills needed while working in special operations," Depenbrock said. "Building these long-lasting relationships help us realize that there is so much more to learn. The cultural broadening that we get from these exercises benefits us all both personally and professionally."

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