U.S., Thai airmen and soldiers partner, jump for freedom

UDON THANI, Thai­land (AFNS) — More than 240 Thai and U.S. air­men and sol­diers took part in a per­son­nel drop over Lop Buri, Thai­land to close out this year’s Cope Tiger 2012 mul­ti­lat­er­al air exer­cise between the U.S., Thai­land and Sin­ga­pore which was held here March 12 through 23.

Roy­al Thai air force and Army mil­i­tary free fall per­son­nel ready para­chutes at Don Mueang Inter­na­tion­al Air­port, Thai­land pri­or to board­ing a C‑17 Globe­mas­ter III, Mar. 22. The air­men and sol­diers par­tic­i­pat­ed in the exercise’s largest bilat­er­al free­dom jump to close out Cope Tiger, a two-week long mul­ti-lat­er­al, large force air employ­ment exer­cise. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Capt David Hern­don)
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Coined by com­bined exer­cise lead­er­ship as the largest Cope Tiger bi-lat­er­al free­dom jump in its 18-year his­to­ry, the mis­sion aimed to improve U.S. and Roy­al Thai Air Force abil­i­ties to inter-operate. 

“For me, this was good rela­tion­ship build­ing between the U.S. and Thai­land,” said Roy­al Thai Air Force Lt. Nawaphansa Yugala, mil­i­tary free fall para­chutist. “I felt very pre­pared to work with U.S. air­crews today and though I have a lot of train­ing, it was very ben­e­fi­cial to all of us to jump out of the C‑17.”

The jump per­son­nel were trans­port­ed by two U.S. Air Force C‑17 Globe­mas­ter III air­crews from Joint Base Pearl Har­bor-Hick­am, Hawaii and Joint Base Elmen­dorf-Richard­son, Alas­ka, and by two C‑130 Her­cules air­crews from Yoko­ta Air Base, Japan. 

“This was an inter­na­tion­al ver­sion of our Joint Oper­a­tional Access Exer­cise that proved that we can accom­plish our mis­sion when con­front­ed with tac­ti­cal chal­lenges that nat­u­ral­ly arise with dif­fer­ent users and oper­at­ing envi­ron­ments,” said Maj. Joseph Mona­co, Cope Tiger Free­dom Jump mis­sion com­man­der. “We also exer­cised inter­op­er­abil­i­ty with the Roy­al Thai Air Force and Roy­al Thai Army by employ­ing our low and high-alti­tude per­son­nel air­drop mis­sions as a com­pos­ite C‑17 and C‑130 aer­i­al deliv­ery package.” 

The mobil­i­ty Air­men were staged out of Udon Thani Roy­al Thai Air Base Base, Thai­land, and read­ied the trans­port air­craft for sta­t­ic line and high alti­tude-low open­ing pro­ce­dures. Accord­ing to Capt. Michael Reck­er, Cope Tiger C‑17 oper­a­tions project offi­cer, par­tic­i­pants learned a great deal from the day-long mission. 

“This was a very unique oppor­tu­ni­ty for our U.S. and Thai air­men and sol­diers,” said Reck­er, cur­rent­ly assigned to the 535th Air­lift Squadron, at JB Hick­am. “We don’t get to drop actu­al per­son­nel as often, espe­cial­ly in such large num­bers, and doing so with our Thai part­ners was an amaz­ing experience.” 

Reck­er explained that plan­ning for the free­dom jump began in Sep­tem­ber 2011 at the exercise’s ini­tial plan­ning conference. 

“The C‑130 project offi­cer, myself, and our Thai coun­ter­parts deter­mined that a joint per­son­nel drop was what we want­ed to strive for,” said Reck­er. “We built on that plan at the final plan­ning con­fer­ence and a detailed exe­cu­tion plan start­ed about 3 weeks out and the build of that was com­plet­ed dur­ing the three days pre­ced­ing the drop.” 

Exer­cise Cope Tiger aims to enhance readi­ness and combined/joint inter­op­er­abil­i­ty between U.S. Forces, allies and part­ners with­in the Asia-Pacif­ic region. Reck­er con­tin­ued that U.S. and Thai air­men and sol­diers learned valu­able lessons through the plan­ning and exe­cu­tion of the jump, ulti­mate­ly demon­strat­ing capa­bil­i­ties and resolve to sup­port future chal­lenges in the region. 

“This was def­i­nite­ly a con­fi­dence builder as well as deeply sat­is­fy­ing in that we suc­cess­ful­ly accom­plished the mis­sion,” said the cap­tain. “I feel like our rela­tion­ship and inter­op­er­abil­i­ty with the Roy­al Thai Air Force and Roy­al Thai Army is now stronger, and I’m excit­ed about build­ing on that in the future.” 

Cope Tiger is an annu­al, mul­ti­lat­er­al joint and com­bined field train­ing exer­cise that takes place Korat and Udon Thani Roy­al Thai Air Force Bases. This year more than 1,900 air­men and civil­ians par­tic­i­pat­ed in the exer­cise, includ­ing approx­i­mate­ly 430 U.S. ser­vice members. 

“This was the ulti­mate train­ing envi­ron­ment to prac­tice the exe­cu­tion of a com­plex sce­nario with mul­ti­ple weapon sys­tems, users, and meth­ods of aer­i­al deliv­ery,” said Mona­co. “Our tac­tics, tech­niques and pro­ce­dures can be employed with dif­fer­ent nations and users with astound­ing success.” 

The exer­cise includ­ed a total of 92 air­craft and 34 air defense units, includ­ing U.S. plat­forms such as the C‑130 Her­cules, A‑10 Thun­der­bolt II, C‑17 Globe­mas­ter III, and F‑15 Eagle. 

Cope Tiger exer­cise sce­nar­ios con­clud­ed Mar. 23 and rede­ploy­ment of per­son­nel and air­craft con­tin­ue this week. 

U.S. Air Force 

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