News: US, Philippines partner for Exercise Balikatan 2013
Story by Staff Sgt. Christopher McCullough
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – On April 5, soldiers from 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, joined more than 8,000 U.S. and Filipino service members on the Philippine island of Luzon for Joint Exercise Balikatan. Exercise Balikatan 2013 is in its 29th iteration and is intended to promote regional peace and security by ensuring the interoperability and readiness of Philippine and U.S. forces. The word Balikatan means "shoulder-to-shoulder" in Tagalog, one of several native Filipino languages, and characterizes the spirit of the bilateral Philippines-U.S. exercise.
By design, each U.S. military unit had a specific set of responsibilities within the exercise which encompassed both traditional military training and civil military projects. Lead by the 3-2 SBCT Commander, Col. Hugh D. Bair, the brigade deployed its command staff with the mission to train their counterparts in the Armed Forces of the Philippines to develop their capabilities to deploy their forces within 96 hours anywhere in the archipelago.
"They currently do not have that capability. Because our Army does have that capability, and the planning acumen to be able to achieve it, that's one reason we went there- to help (their) transformative exercise," said Maj. Matthew Archambault, the operations officer for 3-2 SBCT.
"This (AFP) unit we were working with; this is their initial seed-corn. I use the term seed-corn deliberately… because I think this is a starting point for their transformation process,” stated Lt. Col. Patrick D. Quinn, chief of fires for 7th Infantry Division and the 1st Corps representative at the exercise.
The mission commenced with opening ceremonies attended by Col. James Joven, commander of the Joint Task Force National Capitol Region Command. During his address, Joven stressed the importance of this exercise as it “will close the gap between theory and practice.”
The Arrowhead Soldiers worked togethery with approximately 45 Filipino Soldiers as they refined their reaction to a potential attack on the island of Batan, one of many islands that make up the Philippine Archipelago. This is a new concept for the AFP, as up to now they have been largely providing national security and maintaining their internal focus of peace and stability along with support to the people of the Philippines, Quinn mentioned.
"Soon they'll be able to transition more of their armed force’s focus to… national defense in battling external threats," Quinn explained.
Quinn added that while the Filipino armed forces are working hard to transform themselves into a fighting force capable of conducting full spectrum operations, they are not ready to go out and execute quick deployment maneuvers just yet.
"This is a starting process. They would tell you, this is a multi-year process. They have a six year plan on how they're going to develop this one unit and move them from a current capability to an initial rapid deployment capability, so that then they finally achieve a fully operational type of capability," Quinn explained.
Exercise Balikatan 2013 provided an opportunity for the AFP and Soldiers from the 3rd Stryker Brigade to come together in a learning environment to share experiences and lessons learned with each other.
"This particular Balikatan, and what Arrowhead did in here, was unique in that it's the first one that I'm aware of that has ever really focused on something as dramatic as this transformation effort," said Quinn. "Instead of focusing on internal security type of operations, (the AFP) focused on projecting power, (responding to) external threats and being able to deploy a force anywhere across the archipelago in order to maintain the territorial sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines."
Of equal importance during this exercise was the opportunity to form and maintain close friendships, as well as gain an enduring appreciation of each other’s customs. However, at the core of it all, the exercise was designed to develop joint force operation capabilities in the AFP and, to Joven, it looks to have been successful.
"I believe that this exercise has set the foundation for next year's (command post exercise)," Joven stated. "It has created an operational plan that can be executed both doctrinally and reasonably."
Joven concluded by stating that he was impressed with the Arrowhead Brigade and looked forward to a continued partnership with them.
"The (Arrowhead Brigade’s) staff provided professional and technical expertise that we greatly appreciate. We have developed professional and personal relationships that will last beyond the duration of this exercise. I hope in the future it is the Arrowhead Brigade that returns to support our future endeavors with Balikatan," Joven said.