Special Operations News

Thais, Americans join forces for Operation Teak Torch

UDON THANI, Thailand — The language of friendship forged through any communication barriers as Royal Thai air forces and the United States Air Force joined together for exchange training here.

About 130 members from the 353rd Special Operations Group, whose home station is Kadena Air Base, Japan, traveled to Udon Thani Air Base, Thailand, for Exercise Teak Torch.

"The joint combined exercise training events are designed to enhance U.S. military training and are conducted in many countries in the Pacific Command area of responsibility each year," Lt. Col. Toby Wong, mission commander, said. "JCETs also enhance bilateral relations, contribute to regional stability and increase interoperability."

Pararescuemen and combat controllers from both nations conducted friendship personnel airdrops from the group’s Combat Shadow MC-130P throughout the exercise.

Thai jumpers, many whom had never jumped at night and some who had never been a part of water survival airdrops were a part of daily airdrops.

"The first time I left the plane it felt good and then strange to land in the water," Thai Major Surapond Apitachapan, Special Operations Regiment squadron leader, said. "Normally we jump twice a month, with this exercise we jump every day and are able to correct our mistakes."

Even though the two militaries speak different languages, there were no differences when it came time to exchange information and train together.

"When Americans want to tell us something, sometimes they must show us for us to understand," Flight Sergeant First Class Nathaphun Junkeeree, a pararescueman from the Search and Rescue Division, said. "In the end, we all do the same job, even though we are from different places."

Along with PJs, security forces and aircrew members were paired up for exchange training throughout the annual exercise.

"It’s a unique opportunity for us to demonstrate our specialties and train with Thai forces," Staff Sgt. Sarah Valdovinos, 353rd SOG security forces member, said. "It’s good to know that we can all work together."

Emergency responders from both nations also exercised together and brought together medical, security and safety personnel.

The United States has participated in JCETs within in the Pacific Command area of responsibility since 1984.

The 353rd SOG is the Air Force’s only special operations unit assigned to the Pacific region. In addition to the Combat Shadow, the group also maintains and flies the MC-130H Combat Talon II.


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