SUKHOTHAI, Kingdom of Thailand – Ancient spires dating back 700 years rise from the ground, as if puncturing up through the Earth’s crust and not built by hand. Elsewhere, ornate statues, earthen pots and rudimentary kilns are preserved as testaments to the artistry and craftsmanship of the early civilization which inhabited the Sukhothai province, Kingdom of Thailand.
Marines with civil affairs detachment, G-3, operations, III Marine Expeditionary Force, executed a civil reconnaissance of the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum Feb. 1 in Sukhothai province, Kingdom of Thailand, during Exercise Cobra Gold 2014.
The purpose of the site visit was to discuss and assess disaster preparedness with key leaders, strengthen relationships with the local community, and build a better cultural understanding of the region.
The sprawling grounds made up the heart of the ancient capital and were the economic, religious and cultural epicenter for the province, according to Sirawee, the cultural officer for the museum.
“The area held great cultural significance,” said Sirawee. “(The artifacts date) as far back as the prehistoric age in northern Thailand.”
Many of the items on display reflected the influence of numerous surrounding cultures on the Thai peoples through the pottery, religious relics, military equipment and even fashion.
“The ‘kris’ (dagger) was a weapon of the Islamic people in the region,” said Sirawee. “Although the men of Sukhothai were not (Muslim), they would carry them as a point of fashion.”
Natural disasters are an ever present threat to historical sites, and Thailand is particularly susceptible to flooding, according to Cpl. Austin R Schey, a civil affairs noncommissioned officer with the detachment.
The focus of the Marines with the civil affairs detachment was the preservation of these culturally and historically significant objects and ruins.
“There are several bodies of water around these particular ruins,” said Schey. “Ultimately the site could be in danger if it were to flood.”
Being able to identify the cultural challenges faced by a local populace allows for constructive dialog between civil affairs Marines and key civic leaders when building a mutual understanding of how a strong relationship is beneficial for both nations, according to Schey.
“We want to educate ourselves on as much of their background and culture as possible,” said Schey. “Cobra Gold is one of the biggest exercises we (participate in), and it is important for us to be proficient and knowledgeable about their culture.”
The curators of the museum and site take special care to ensure the artifacts and relics are protected from possibly damaging elements, according to Lance Cpl. Casey P. Lee, a civil affairs Marine with the detachment. High brick walls protect the numerous statues of the deity Buddha found across the park and glass encases some of the more valuable pieces in the museum.
“They preserve (their history) very well,” said Lee. “We go to these exercises to find out from the locals themselves if there are any problems in the area, and it’s always helpful when we can understand the culture.”
Cobra Gold is a Thai-U.S. co-sponsored multinational, joint theater security cooperation exercise conducted annually in the Kingdom of Thailand.
This year’s exercise is designed to improve the capability to plan and conduct combined-joint operations, build relationships between partner nations, and improve interoperability across the range of military operations.