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NEWS | Oct. 20, 2023

USAF, ROKAF join forces for Herk Guardians 23

By Airman 1st Class Natalie Doan, 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

United States Air Force representatives from Yokota Air Base, Japan, met Republic of Korea Air Force counterparts at Gimhae Air Base, South Korea, for a week of tactical airlift training and cultural exchange as part of Herk Guardians 23, Oct. 9–13.

HG 23 is a bilateral training event designed to advance interoperability between USAF and ROKAF mobility units through subject matter expert exchanges and scenario-based training.

The week-long exercise began with mission briefings and discussions geared toward a variety of topics, including night-vision capabilities and heavy equipment operations, along with mission sets under tactical airlift execution.

Leaders from the 36th Airlift Squadron then sat down with their ROKAF counterparts to conduct mission planning for a training scenario involving static line jumps and simulated cargo drops over a drop zone in South Korea.

Capt. Isaac Pérez, 36th AS C-130J Super Hercules pilot, served as the mission commander for HG 23 and lauded the efforts of both USAF and ROKAF personnel as they worked together to ensure a successful exercise.

“It took a village for members of both the U.S. Air Force and Republic of Korea Air Force to ensure a safe and effective integration during Herk Guardians 23,” said Pérez. “There's always room for improvement when working together, but that's the beautiful process of strengthening our alliance and building our interoperability for the future. It's been impressive to see our two forces come together this past week.”

The USAF and ROKAF each provided two C-130Js for HG 23, allowing aircrew members from both militaries to observe each side’s tactics, techniques, and procedures.

Master Sgt. Toni Odom, 36th AS flight chief, said she and her fellow loadmasters supporting the exercise learned there are more similarities than differences between them and their ROKAF counterparts when it comes to securing cargo load.

“They hold a very high standard just like we do,” said Odom. “Whenever we meet in the middle and combine our standards, it makes us stronger in the future.”

To conclude HG 23, ROKAF leaders invited members from Yokota to visit the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan, where they observed a moment of silence for the sacrifices made by fallen soldiers and war veterans.

ROKAF and USAF personnel then came together for one last time in the evening to share a meal and exchange gifts, with leaders from both sides thanking each other for a successful exercise.

“It's been a real pleasure working with the ROKAF to practice joint interoperability within the Korean Peninsula,” said Maj. Cameron Vickroy, 36th AS assistant director of operations. “Together, we are working to secure the Indo-Pacific region from the threats we may face in the future, and without this alliance, we can't make that happen.”

HG 23 marks the first time the exercise has been held in five years, with the last iteration taking place in 2018 before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Capt. Heejoong Kim, 36th AS C-130J pilot, is looking forward to training alongside his ROKAF counterparts again.

“Through Herk Guardians 23, we validated the interoperability and tactical airlift capabilities of two great Air Forces,” said Kim. “This was a unique opportunity that allowed the 36th Airlift Squadron to accomplish multiple training objectives, and I hope we get to experience an exercise like this again in the future.”