353rd Special Operations Group wraps up Cobra Gold 2017

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  • By Capt. Jessica Tait, 353rd Special Operations Group Public Affairs
  • 353rd Special Operations Group
Members of the 353rd Special Operations Group participated in the 36th iteration of the annual Theater Security Cooperation event Exercise Cobra Gold 2017 (CG17), which took place Feb. 14-24, 2017 at various locations throughout the Kingdom of Thailand.

The 353rd SOG trained side by side with their Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) counterparts throughout the exercise, conducting tactical-level exchanges in aircraft maintenance, day and night low-level aviation, Military Free Fall (MFF), Close Air Support (CAS) and Rigging Alternate Method Zodiac (RAMZ) air drop utilization for personal recovery operations.

“This year we focused on further developing our long-standing partnership with the RTAF and 3rd Special Operations Regiment units by focusing on the interoperability of our forces in special tactics missions, air operations, aircraft maintenance and mission support functions,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Joel Buelow, 353rd SOG mission commander for CG17. “Our hope is that our strong relationship with these RTAF units ever continues and that the interoperability gains forged this year can be carried over to our next exchange evolution and built upon for years to come.”

The 320th Special Tactics Squadron combat controllers (CCTs) and pararescuemen (PJs) conducted periods of instruction, live CAS evolutions and MFF jumps with the 3rd SOR daily utilizing air support from a U.S. Air Force MC-130J Commando II assigned to the 17th Special Operations Squadron.

“CG17 provided the opportunity to advance interoperability and increase partner capacity by planning and executing complex training missions with multiple RTAF units,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Kip Hanson, 353rd SOG air operations planner for CG17. “The airborne operations we conducted will enhance the ability to provide a rapid multinational response to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the Pacific.”

In addition to the tactical execution elements of CG17, the 353rd SOG also focused on education and training through subject-matter expert exchanges with RTAF 601st Squadron aircrews and maintenance, as well as doctors and medical support technicians from Wing 1 Air Base.

“Working with the Royal Thai Air Force was a humbling and enlightening experience,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Andrew Finesilver, 353rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron production superintendent. “We learned a lot from them and hope they learned something from us as we look forward to a growing partnership in aircraft maintenance.”

Similar to last year, CG17 emphasized coordination on civic action, such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, seeking to expand regional cooperation and collaboration in these vital areas.

“We were thrilled to make contact with our medical counterparts, teach some tactical combat casualty care (TCCC) and demonstrate the unique items that we have in our casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) kits,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Chris Walker, 353rd SOG group surgeon. “Forging those relationships with our RTAF counterparts during CG17 will hopefully open doors for future medical exchanges where we can continue to build upon the foundation that was set and learn from each other.”

The military members demonstrated appreciation to the local community following CG17 with a day of activities with a local Thai school, which included a soccer game, luncheon, bilateral jump demonstration and low-level flyover.

“To further the educational needs of the students from Sirijantaranmit School Lopburi, we’ve donated $4,000 worth of computers, uniforms and school supplies,” said Buelow. “CG 17 and our community relations event demonstrated our commitment to supporting not only the security of Thailand but also the community and humanitarian interests of a key partner nation.”

CG17 improved the capabilities of participating nations to plan and conduct combined, joint operations; build relationships among participating nations across the region; and improve interoperability over a range of activities, including enhancing maritime security, preventing and mitigating emerging disease threats and responding to large-scale natural disasters.

“Working with our RTAF counterparts has been absolutely great,” said Buelow. “The Thai people have been very welcoming and we look forward to future engagements here.”

Cobra Gold is the largest Theater Security Cooperation exercise in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and is an integral part of the U.S. commitment to strengthen engagement in the region.