JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – A CH-47 Chinook lifted off from Gray Army Airfield during the fog plagued, pre-dawn hours, Oct. 25, in route to Satsop Business Park in Elma, Wash.
Its passengers, airmen of the 26th and 27th Squadrons, Royal Air Force Regiment, and soldiers of the 11th Chemical Company, 110th Chemical Battalion, are on their way to complete the last major training exercise of a three-day training event.
The day before, the soldiers trained alongside the RAF airmen at the Olympia Fire Department’s training complex where the units conducted combined training scenarios involving simulated explosives and chemical hazards.
According to Lt. Diana M. Williams, an assistant team leader with the 11th Chemical Company, 110th Chemical Battalion, the joint training was designed to facilitate a sharing of capabilities with the RAF unit and at the same time build relationships between the two countries.
“The purpose of this training is to find out what’s the best way to do things to try and improve on what we do now,” said Williams. “This can hopefully make both of our units better and potentially save lives downrange.”
“They want to see our capabilities while at the same time showing us some of their capabilities,” said Sgt. Anita A. Galli, an explosive ordinance disposal team leader with the 11th Chemical Company, 110th Chemical Battalion. “The RAF units are interested in some of our tactics techniques and procedures to see if they want to incorporate them into their unit or learn from them.”
Galli explained the 11th Chemical Company, 110th Chemical Battalion, is one of only two chemical units in the Army that combines EOD soldiers with chemical soldiers, which makes it easier to deal with situations potentially involving explosives and chemical weapons.
“Right now the British have their chemical teams, but they don’t have the EOD portion,” said Galli. “They like that we have EOD and chemical response elements within our teams, so we can basically show up on site and be fully prepared for any situation.”
“The EOD element is something we can definitely learn from,” said Cpl. Barry W. Budgen, sample team commander with the 27th Squadron, Royal Air Force Regiment. “If our unit came upon ordinance or a bomb we would have to call an EOD unit and then wait for them.”
Budgen saw the effectiveness of this type of unit first hand at the Satsop training area.
Elements of an RAF chemical sample team paired with Sgt. Galli’s EOD team during a training mission that simulated the discovery of chemical weapons in a building that was potentially rigged with explosives.
The RAF chemical team was able to quickly take samples of the chemical substances after Sgt. Galli’s EOD team cleared the area of any explosive hazards.
“After seeing how the United States uses their EOD teams with chemical teams I think it is a good idea,” said Budgen. “We should have an EOD element incorporated into our unit.”
Budgen said he enjoyed the opportunity to learn from and share with the Army unit.
“Just being out here with the American unit and seeing how they train has been really good, especially since we have some new lads with us who haven’t had the chance to train outside of the United Kingdom before,” he said.
Galli also said she enjoyed the opportunity to train alongside and build friendships with her RAF counterparts.
“As a soldier, you hear a lot about our allies but you don’t get many opportunities to actually meet them and see their capabilities,” she said. “I think it’s really important to be able to work with and share knowledge with our allies because when we do go into a conflict like Iraq or Afghanistan, we go in together.”
Williams said her unit was very excited to be able to host the Airmen of the RAF who were visiting Joint Base Lewis-McChord for a 10-day training rotation.
According to Williams, this was the first time her unit has had the opportunity to host a unit from an allied nation on JBLM.
“They have actually extended an invitation for our unit to train with them in the United Kingdom next year,” added Williams. “We are all keeping our fingers crossed for that to happen.”