353rd Special Operations Group wraps up Balikatan 2018

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  • By Capt. Jessica Tait, 353rd Special Operations Group Public Affairs
  • 353rd Special Operations Group

Members of the U.S. Air Force 353rd Special Operations Group (SOG) participated in the 34th iteration of the annual multilateral training exercise Balikatan 2018 (BK18), which took place May 7-18, 2018 on the island of Luzon, Philippines.


The 353rd SOG trained side-by-side with Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and U.S. armed forces counterparts throughout the exercise, conducting daytime and night vision goggle (NVG) mountainous low-level, helicopter air to air refueling, personnel static line jump operations, assault zone establishment and control, airdrops, search and rescue contingency and the staging of a forward area refueling point for close air support and assault aircraft.


“This year we focused on mutual defense training and increasing cooperation, interoperability and collaboration with our long-standing Philippine and joint partners,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Lankowski, 353rd SOG mission commander for BK18. “Our team of air operations, special tactics, aircraft maintenance and mission support personnel worked alongside their counterparts throughout the exercise to increase mission effectiveness in training operational contingencies.”


The U.S. Air Force 17th Special Operations Squadron supported airborne operations for Philippine and U.S. special operations forces (SOF), executed scenario based missions with combat air forces (CAF) units and conducted tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) exchanges with Philippine C-130 counterparts.


“The exercise offered an amazing opportunity to bolster our operational capability while increasing combined and joint partnership capacity,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Patrick Doyle, 353rd SOG air planner for BK18. “We advanced SOF and CAF interoperability in the planning and execution of complex and realistic missions with the U.S. Air Force 25th Fighter Squadron and 33rd Rescue Squadron.”


The TTP exchange between 17th SOS aircrew and Philippine Air Force (PAF) 220th Airlift Wing provided an opportunity to share knowledge on flying night low level and the integration of NVG devices. U.S. Air Force 353rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron technicians shared best practices in the areas of aircraft maintenance configurations, propulsion systems and navigation systems.


“We established a great foundation with our PAF C-130 partners through our air operations and aircraft maintenance exchanges,” said Doyle. “We look forward to future engagements as we continue to codify TTPs and learn from one another.”


Air Commandos strengthened partner relations with the AFP through a symbolic jump demonstrating the long-standing friendship.


“Our MC-130J Commando II provided air support to U.S. Army 1st Special Forces Group and AFP Joint Special Operations Group jumpers, while our U.S. Air Force 320th Special Tactics Squadron combat controllers (CCTs) controlled the airfield from the ground,” said Lankowski. “The airborne infiltration training further developed the integration of forces across U.S. and Philippine SOF and demonstrated our unwavering support and commitment to our key partners in the region.”


The U.S. Air Force 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron Deployed Aircraft Ground Response Element (DAGRE) team members accomplished mission essential tasks during their tactical level training and bilateral exchange with AFP 710th Special Operations Wing counterparts.


“It was essential that our training be mutually beneficial and work to strengthen the partnership between our units,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jeremy Phillips, 353rd SOSS DAGRE team lead. “In addition to accomplishing our training requirements, we shared instruction on air base defense theory, command and control structure, entry control point operations, military working dog applications, vehicle operations, active shooter response procedures, anti-terrorism, small unit tactics and close quarters battle. Our 710th SPOW partners have been amazing hosts and I look forward to future engagements.”


Military members from the 353rd SOG and U.S. Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 85 demonstrated appreciation to the local community through a charitable donation to Subic Bay Children’s home and day of activities, which included opening ceremonies, musical performances, luncheon and sports games.


“My favorite part of the entire exercise was engaging with the children during the community relations (COMREL) event,” said Phillips. “We dedicated months to the planning of the COMREL and it warms my heart that we were able to improve the children’s quality of life through a $15,000 donation of computers, printers, washers and dryers, uniforms and essential school supplies.”


Balikatan is an annual U.S.-Philippine military multilateral training event focused on a variety of missions, including mutual defense, counterterrorism and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.


“The training conducted with our Philippine partners was mutually beneficial,” said Lankowski. “We hope to increase our interoperability and continue to strengthen our partner relations throughout the year in preparation for another successful Balikatan.”