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Exercise in Thailand a total force success

  • Published
  • By Col. Robert "Randy" Huston
  • 624th Regional Support Group
(Colonel Huston served as the wing commander at the Cope Tiger 2009 exercise in March.) Sitting in my office next to the flightline, I could feel the rumble of the fighters taking off. The building shook as they pushed the throttles into afterburner. The roar drowned out any attempt at conversation. It was the sound of freedom, and it felt good! 

Cope Tiger 09 was in the execution phase, and all the months of meticulous planning was paying off. 

For those who haven't heard of Cope Tiger, it is an annual, multilateral, Combined/Joint exercise that brings together the Armed Forces of Thailand, Singapore and the United States to conduct a multinational air operation. 

U.S., Thai and Singaporean aircrews conducted dissimilar basic fighter maneuvers training, dissimilar air combat tactics training, close air support training, tactical airdrop training and large force employment training at both Korat and Udon Thani Royal Thai Air Force bases. 

This year's exercise was the largest to date employing 119 aircraft, 34 air defense systems and more than 2,100 personnel who executed over 1,100 sorties. 

The U.S. was well represented with more than 1,000 personnel and 53 aircraft from the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. There was an incredible range of aircraft to include the F-5, F-15, F-16, F-18, A-10, Alpha Jet, E-2, E-3, KC-130, KC-135, C-130, and C-17. 

Cope Tiger also helps cultivate common bonds and foster goodwill between the United States and allied partner nations' forces by conducting multilateral humanitarian and civic assistance operations. 

One way we did that was through medical outreach. Medical teams, comprised of U.S., Singaporean and Thai professionals, visited remote villages and set up clinics in schools across the country where they provided dental, optometry and medical care to more than 2,000 underprivileged Thai citizens. 

Imagine not being able to afford a "luxury" such as eyeglasses. During the course of our medical engagement, we distributed more than 200 pairs of prescription glasses each day. This is just one example of the impact we had on a daily basis. 

In addition to the medical outreach, we donated school supplies, computers and sports equipment to local schools. U.S. forces raised more than $4,400 through personal donations to support Thai schools. 

We also spent time talking and sharing personal experiences with high school and university students. Most people in foreign countries learn about America through Hollywood movies, which can present a very distorted picture of Americans. This was our opportunity to show them that people in America and Thailand actually have a lot in common. 

Finally, this year's exercise was an example of how far we've come with the Total Force in the Air Force. 

As the wing commander for Cope Tiger 09, this was especially apparent to me. There was a time when the active duty would have never considered giving command of such a large, Joint operation to a Reservist, but these days such decisions tend to be "component blind." 

While approximately 95 percent of the Air Force positions were filled by active duty, we also had civilians, guardsmen and reservists who were chosen based on their specific competencies, and who were otherwise indistinguishable from their active duty counterparts. Civilians were present in communications, MWR and mission support. 

The Guard brought a KC-135, and a guardsman was the commander for a combined active duty and Guard KC-135 detachment. Two guardsmen were mission directors in the Live Fly Cell, and the Hawaii Air National Guard commander, Maj. Gen. Darryll Wong, represented 13th Air Force during the closing ceremony. 

Multi-national, joint, multi-component -- this exercise had it all and I'm proud to have been a part of it!