POHANG, South Korea -- The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) concluded its participation in Freedom Shield 23 (FS23) on March 23, 2023. Freedom Shield is a defensive exercise which focuses on building the combined capabilities and readiness between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and U.S. military forces. This year’s exercise integrated live and constructive elements and was the first time that 1st Marine Division, based in Camp Pendleton, CA, participated in the exercise in more than 60 years, marking their return to the Korean peninsula.1st Marine Division, ROK 1st Marine Division, ROK Marine Aircraft Group, and over 250 1st MAW Marines conducted the 11-day exercise from ROK Marine Corps Base Pohang, South Korea.
1st MAW participated in FS23 through distributed operations. “Distributed operations enable our resiliency and ability to utilize reach-back capabilities. It makes us a more resilient force by reducing our signature and vulnerability to attacks. Additionally, the whole combined and joint force operates in a distributed manner. Becoming more proficient at operating as a unit distributed makes us better at operating as a distributed combined and joint force,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Luke Rodina, a planner with 1st MAW.
This year’s iteration was also the first time the ROK MAG, the ROK Marine Corps’ first and only aircraft group, fully integrated with 1st MAW operational planning and execution. “We worked hand in hand with the ROK MAG team at every level of aviation tasking. Every problem was resolved with our counterparts through direct communication,” said U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Je Her, air support control officer. “This level of interaction allowed for us to come up with mutually beneficial solutions that accomplish our missions,” Her added.
“We were able to overcome cultural, process, and command and control challenges by integrating the ROK MAG directly into the tactical air command center as well as establishing consistent and frequent touch points with key leadership on both sides. The ROK MAG brings a fleet of versatile aircraft with well-trained aircrew that can perform every function of assault support in conjunction with U.S. Forces. Their impact was significant throughout the exercise. Most importantly, the ROK MAG brings a professional and finely tuned warfighting spirit that only Marines can understand,” said Col. William Pacatte, the lead 1st MAW operations officer.
Freedom Shield 23 revolved around a single, continuous phase operation. This increased realism and allowed combined forces opportunities to overcome numerous simulated challenges. Because of how dynamic the exercise scenario was, success required near constant coordination across all levels of the staffs to execute as a combined force. “FS23 was beneficial as it was the first time the ROK MAG and 1st MAW conducted this type of training,” said Col. Soo Yong Kim, ROK MAG commander. “It was an opportunity to develop aviation command and control capabilities through a combined TACC. FS23 served as a steppingstone for establishing realistic, combined air control procedures and is an important first step for U.S. and ROK Marine Corps aviation forces to integrate and carry out missions in the near future,” added Kim.
Freedom Shield is a defense-oriented exercise designed to strengthen the ROK-U.S. Alliance, enhance our combined defense posture, and strengthen security and stability on the Korean Peninsula.