353rd Special Operations Group participates in Teak Torch 2017

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  • By Capt. Jessica Tait, 353rd Special Operations Group Public Affairs
  • 353rd Special Operations Group
The 353rd Special Operations Group sent a specialized team of subject-matter experts in airborne operations, aircraft maintenance and survive, evade, resist and escape (SERE) to engage with counterparts from the Royal Thai Air Force 601st Squadron, RTAF 3rd Battalion Special Operations Regiment and U.S. Air Force 6th Special Operations Squadron during Teach Torch 2017, March 2-17, 2017 at various locations in Thailand.

“We dedicated the first two weeks to academics on advance mission planning, search and rescue (SAR) procedures, container delivery system (CDS) airdrops, rigging alternate method zodiac (RAMZ) and flying in visual formation,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Matthew Howard, Teak Torch 2017 mission commander. “There have been countless hours of exchange and relationship building in the classroom and outside of that to include briefings, observation flights and one-on-one discussions between U.S. and Thai counterparts in a more casual format.”

The subject-matter experts worked with the 601st SQDN prior to the exercise to customize the exchange based on the needs of the RTAF.

“The Thais were very motivated to participate as we tailored our Teak Torch to be mutually beneficial for both units,” said Howard. “Another key to the success was having USAF maintenance and pilot exchange officers, who are assigned with the 601st SQDN, communicate how the unit operates and their command’s intent.”

In addition to the classroom portion with 601st SQDN aircrew, the 353rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron conducted hands-on troubleshooting on RTAF C-130s.

“It has been a really neat experience to interact with the 601st SQDN Maintenance Team and see how they do business,” said U.S. Air Force 1st Lieutenant Christopher Teaford, 353rd SOMXS officer-in-charge. “They do the same maintenance we do but they do it in a slightly different way. It has been eye opening to see how they accomplish the mission.”

A few first-ever engagements occurred during the exercise to include 353rd SOG members flying on a RTAF C-130, a U.S. and Thai formation flight and 353rd SOMXS plugging a fuel quantity indicator test set into a Thai aircraft.

“We have learned a ton from our RTAF partners on different ways of executing,” said Howard. “Even if we don’t deviate, now we know we do something similar and will be on the same page when we engage in the future.”

Air commandos from the 1st Special Operations Squadron provided personnel and cargo drops for RTAF 3rd BN SOR and 6th SOS during the last week of Teak Torch, which culminated in a full mission profile.

“The airborne operations executed during the exercise provided the opportunity to demonstrate capabilities discussed during the academic portion,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Scott Welshinger, 1st SOS pilot. “The opportunity to observe, plan and execute complex training missions helps to advance interoperability and increase partner capacity.”

The military members demonstrated appreciation to the Thai community during the exercise through a $15,000 donation of supplies to three private, non-profit orphanages in Bangkok, Thailand.

“Thailand has been a U.S. ally for years and their hospitality is the most immaculate I’ve ever seen,” said Howard. “Our folks wanted to reciprocate by being good ambassadors not only with the airlift squadron but the people in the community.”

Throughout Teak Torch 2017, the 353rd SOG and 601st SQDN demonstrated the strength of a partnership that has evolved over the years.

“My goal for the subject-matter expert exchanges during Teak Torch was to gain credibility and trust with the primary C-130 squadron in Thailand,” said Howard. “As the primary MC-130 squadron in the Pacific, it would be amazing to get the 601st SQDN to come out to Kadena and operate with us. For us to be parked right next to each other, talking right next to each other is huge for the relationship piece and ease of access.”

Teak Torch 2017 is a joint, combined exchange-training event conducted annually with various units from the Royal Thai Air Force.