MANILA, U.S. Embassy in the Philippines -- Service members from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and United States Armed Forces concluded the 36th iteration of Balikatan Exercise on Friday, April 23 with a small ceremony held at the General Headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
“The successful conduct of this year’s Balikatan Exercise 36-2021 has definitely brought us a step closer towards our goal of capacitating our forces, and as such, will consequently contribute to the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific Region,” said AFP Chief of Staff General Cirilito Sobejana.
The Chief of Staff was joined by the Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana; U.S. Embassy in the Philippines Chargé d’Affaires John Law; Major General Edgard Arevalo, the Commander of the AFP Education Training and Doctrine Command and this year’s Exercise Director; Brigadier General Fernando Reyeg, Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Training and Education and Assistant Exercise Director of BK36-2021; and Colonel Aaron Brunk of the U.S. III Marine Expeditionary Force, Officer in Charge for Exercise Support Group.
“Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, both Filipino and American forces were able to achieve the objectives of this year’s Balikatan Exercise – to train together on defense and security efforts, leveraging on the capability, experience, and strength of both militaries’ longstanding friendship,” Major General Arevalo said.
Due to the global health crisis, the magnitude of Balikatan 2021 was scaled down both in numbers of events and participants. Approximately 225 U.S. military personnel and 415 AFP personnel participated; all of whom strictly followed health and safety protocols.
“Balikatan showcases the strength and resolve of the Philippine-U.S. Alliance,” said Chargé d’Affaires Law. “These exercises demonstrate and improve our ability to jointly respond to crises. But training is never over. We will continue to advance our military-to-military partnership in pursuit of our shared commitment to mutual defense in a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Major Balikatan 2021 events were held in Colonel Ernesto Ravina Airbase in Tarlac, where combined Air Force and Special Operations forces conducted close air support training, increasing interoperability across the joint forces.
AFP Northern Luzon Command Battle Staff and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command representatives conducted a bilateral staff exercise in Clark, Pampanga, while Philippine and U.S. Special Operations forces conducted a Bilateral Staff Academic Seminar in Taguig City.
Academic discussions and subject matter expert exchanges were held virtually to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The Philippine Air Force and U.S. Pacific Air Forces conducted a virtual Global Health Engagement and other virtual training on various air operations and capabilities.
The exercise also included Humanitarian and Civic Assistance activities, which began on March 26, prior to the opening of the exercises. Philippine and U.S. service members completed the constructions of two classrooms and a daycare center in Plaridel, a classroom in Atimonan, and a health clinic in Mauban, all within Quezon Province.
“The 36th Balikatan Exercise brought together AFP and U.S. Armed Forces amidst the challenge of a never-before-experienced health emergency. Our participants greatly benefitted from trainings, exchange of knowledge, and cooperative activities aimed at better enhancing our capabilities,” Major General Arevalo said.
Secretary Lorenzana recognized the shared commitment to the longstanding U.S.-Philippines Alliance. “Allow me to convey my gratitude to the U.S. Government, represented here by Mr. John Law, for its unwavering support to this annual exercise. I am likewise grateful for your constant and continued assurance of the ironclad commitment to our Mutual Defense Treaty,” he said.
Balikatan, which means “shoulder-to-shoulder” in Filipino, embodies the Alliance and friendship between the Philippines and United States. The exercise officially opened on April 12 and was conducted in Northern and Southern Luzon for two weeks.