US, South Korea civil engineers strengthen alliance during Pacific Unity

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jake Barreiro
  • 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Civil engineer Airmen from the South Korea and U.S. air forces strengthened their joint partnership and sharpened their emergency response skills during Pacific Unity June 9-11 here.

Pacific Unity is a U.S. Pacific Command event focused on improving theater security cooperation within the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. The operation builds partnerships and promotes interoperability by creating an environment where civil engineers can work together and exchange experiences. Engineers from the U.S. and South Korea discussed and worked together in several areas such as emergency management, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, general engineering, environmental security and energy conversation.

Together, the civil engineers completed an airfield damage repair scenario. The ADR tested the team's ability to restore an inoperable runway to operational status as quickly as possible. Being able to work in tandem with each other is an essential aspect to the U.S. and South Korea alliance.

"If we were to go to war, it would require a combined effort between us and our Korean counterparts," said 1st Lt. Miguel Millares, a member of the 8th Civil Engineer Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, and the officer in charge of ADR for Pacific Unity 2015. "Just being able to have our processes on the same page when it comes to command and control when we do our repairs, is of the utmost importance."

Being able to work at the tabletop and on the scene with Koreans is a boon to American forces, Millares said, a sentiment shared by his South Korean counterpart.

"We're always looking for chances to simulate wartime situations, and during wartime the (South Korean) military and U.S. military are going to be working in a combined manner, so we're always looking for opportunities to conduct exercises and combine," said South Korean air force 2nd Lt. Kim Sung Kyum, a member of the Air Force Operations Command plans and coordination office at Osan AB, South Korea. "This is a great opportunity for that. The advantage here is that you get to meet different people from different places and broaden your understanding about how each military works.

The ADR scenario simulated a successful attack on a mock airstrip, leaving two larger craters and six smaller ones, rendering the runway inoperable and requiring quick repair. Working as a team, the engineers labored to repair the craters, excavate and fill the earth, and re-establish the airfield lighting system all while operating heavy machinery. Senior Airman Jacob Sherrer, a 773rd Civil Engineer Squadron equipment operator from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, said he and his teammates overcame the traditional language barrier with Koreans by using easy-to-understand hand signals, commonplace on the job.

"We need to be prepared for translation and other forms of communication," Sherrer said. "I think it helps that we have hand signals, being an equipment operator. It's pretty universal. Safety is paramount, and with all the heavy equipment you can't always hear and you can't always see. So, we utilize as many forms of communication as we can."

With communication being key, Airmen from the U.S. and South Korea remarked on their abilities to overcome the language barrier. Enlisted and officer translators on the Korean side proved critical in aiding communication among team members. Learning to communicate together helped the civil engineers understand and work past procedural barriers, becoming better teammates in the process.

Repairing large-scale damage at a moment’s notice is arduous, but it's undertaken to increase theater security cooperation -- and the importance of maintaining security in the Korean theater is something Airmen from the U.S. and South Korea both acknowledged.

"Exercises like Pacific Unity are tremendous opportunities to reinforce already strong partnerships between the (South Korean) and the U.S. militaries," said Capt. Kyle Ficke, the 51st Civil Engineer Squadron on-site commander from Osan AB. "This kind of interoperability through the collaboration of civil engineering capabilities postures us to thrive operationally should the need for a bilateral response to a contingency arise in the area."

Airmen from both countries said the exercise left them better prepared to accomplish their job and more confident in their abilities to respond to an emergency and support theater security.