WASHINGTON, April 4, 2011 — U.S. and Philippine forces will kick off Balikatan, their annual bilateral training exercise, tomorrow in the Philippines, though in a slightly scaled-down form.
The 10-day exercise will proceed “despite a reduction in the number of participating U.S. troops, many of whom are in Japan to assist in relief efforts there in the wake of the recent earthquake and tsunami,” officials at the U.S. Embassy in Manila announced today.
About 6,500 U.S. service members will join their Philippine armed forces counterparts to conduct combined staff exercises, field training and humanitarian assistance projects to improve interoperability, contingency planning, and their capability to respond to natural disasters and other crises, U.S. Army Pacific officials said.
The 8th U.S. Army, with headquarters at Yongsan Garrison in South Korea, announced it would deploy about 500 soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division’s 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, to augment 6,000 U.S. forces already slated to participate.
The goal, officials said, is to increase the two militaries’ ability to respond quickly and work together effectively to provide relief and assistance in the event of natural disasters and other crises that threaten public safety and health.
U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. called the bilateral training vital to both armed forces’ readiness capabilities.
“Balikatan is all about our partnership and friendship,” he said. “Our forces train together to help communities where assistance is needed and I look forward to visiting the communities they will serve.”
This year’s exercise, the 27th in the series, will feature four events, officials said. The first, which began before the official exercise start date, involves a series of humanitarian and civic assistance initiatives, including medical, dental, veterinary and engineering projects throughout the country.
Also planned is a scenario-based command-post exercise that practices joint and combined force planning at the headquarters level, and field training exercises that promote cross-training and increase interoperability. In addition, U.S. and Philippine explosive disposal teams will conduct combined-forces training.
The term “Balikatan,” a Tagalog word that means “shoulder to shoulder,” symbolizes the partnership between the two countries as they work together toward a common goal. The annual Balikatan exercise is conducted under the auspices of the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951 and Visiting Forces Agreement, with U.S. Army Pacific serving as executive agent.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)