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US, Philippine Air Forces Take Exercise Balikatan to New Heights

By Senior Airman Sadie Colbert | 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade | April 11, 2019

CLARK AIR BASE, Philippines -- U.S. and Philippine air forces shared best practices and showcased their interoperability at various locations across the Philippines during Exercise Balikatan April 1-12, 2019.

The Philippines-led exercise is often known for its humanitarian and amphibious activities, but throughout the exercise’s long history, aviation operations have become an increasingly important piece of the two nations’ training objectives.

"Working hand-in-hand, training side-by-side, and enhancing friendships together is the essence of Balikatan," said Philippine Air Force Master Sgt. Wilma Cango, the first sergeant assigned to the 602nd Aerodome Operations Squadron, and native of Pampanga, Philippines. "We are lucky to have Balikatan because the Philippines and U.S. have a longstanding friendship, and they are always here for the PAF."

Approximately 380 U.S. Air Force personnel from more than 60 career fields participated in the joint, multinational exercise to exchange operational and organizational knowledge.

"The U.S. Air Force comes to the Philippines to share and gain knowledge in different tactics, techniques and procedures whether it's close-air support, air traffic control, or combat search and rescue," said Lt. Col. Jason Chambers, 13th Air Expeditionary Group commander and native of Athens, Alabama.

The U.S. Air Force and PAF began the exercise with combat search and rescue (CSAR) training which included three HH-60G Pave Hawks assigned to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan.

"I was able to see how the 31st Rescue Squadron (RQS) performs a CSAR whereas we function as a non-combatant rescue team," said PAF 1st Lt. Anthony Feril, a 505th Search and Rescue Group UH-H1 Huey co-pilot. "I appreciated being able to experience joint rescue missions with the 31st RQS, allowing for both PAF and U.S. Air Force teams to perform better in the future."

Throughout the exercise, four A-10 Thunderbolt IIs with the 25th Fighter Squadron out of Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, participated in nearly 50 flights alongside U.S. Marine Corps and PAF aircraft.

"The missions have been going really well," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Brian Higgins, an A-10 pilot and native of Vestal, New York. "We were able to work with some of the Filipino joint terminal attack controllers, which we've never been able to do before."

While aircrew worked together high in the skies, medical and security forces personnel on the ground held their own subject matter expert exchanges to strengthen partnerships between first responders.

“I participated in five Exercise Balikatans before this one," said Tech. Sgt. David Rivera, a member of the cadre assigned to the 736th Security Forces Squadron (SFS) from Anderson Air Base, Guam. "I'm really humbled to share our knowledge and exchange with the PAF how they operate during deployed situations."

By working together with their PAF counterparts, U.S. Airmen fortified their skills and increased the fluidity of mission execution between the two nations.

"I think anyone who comes to the Philippines sees they are phenomenal people and they're more than hospitable," said Chambers. "From a military standpoint, we learn as much from them as they learn from us.”

U.S.-Philippine military collaboration has served as the cornerstone for stability in the Indo-Pacific region for decades. Exercise Balikatan will continue to strengthen the nations’ longstanding alliance and friendship for years to come.

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