At Cobra Gold exercise, troops build skills, friendships
Stars and Stripes May 28, 2003
U.S. and Thai soldiers say they exchanged everything from survival skills to soccer kicks during this year’s Cobra Gold training exercise in Thailand.
About 1,500 soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division from Scoffield Barracks, Hawaii, are here for Cobra Gold. They are primarily housed at Camp Thanarat in Pran Buri, near the beach town Hua Hin southwest of Bangkok.
Soldiers from the largest battalion in the exercise, the 1st Battalion 21st Infantry “Gimlets” worked with Royal Thai soldiers on peacekeeping techniques, like clearing an urban building and setting up checkpoints.
U.S. forces led two days of exercises followed by Thai forces leading two days. The U.S.-led training focused on peacekeeping.
“How to handle a crowd, how to handle a sniper, how to run a checkpoint,” explained battalion commander Lt. Col. Mark Dewhurst.
U.S. forces trained Thai soldiers on using night-vision goggles and fire-control devices like laser sights. They taught military operations in an urban setting and demolition including blowing up Bangalore torpedoes.
The Thai-led training included jungle quick-fire demonstrations and every soldier’s favorite — jungle survival training, including skinning a chicken and preparing a meal in homemade bamboo containers.
U.S. soldiers introduced Thais to their tube- launched, optically tracked wire-guided missile, or TOW, system mounted on their Humvees. And the Thai soldiers brought tanks to the training to give U.S. soldiers experience with different equipment.
The two nations also practiced aviation operations, scouting and artillery skills.
“Their mortar platoon is just as proficient as ours — if not more,” Dewhurst said. “Even though they’re separated by language, their jobs are just the same.”
The cooperation and combined training during Cobra Gold extends to logistics soldiers as well as infantry.
Personnel responsible for tankers, maintenance and laundry all fill valuable roles. And even they learn from their Thai counterparts.
“We do everything from jumping out of airplanes to providing fuel to reverse osmosis,” which produces clean water, said Lt. Col Dan Georgi, battalion commander for the 524th Corps Support Battalion, the logistical task force.
His 281 soldiers make sure the U.S. Army can operate in Thailand.
Among the training this year is a Black Hawk jump. U.S. soldiers work with a Thai jumpmaster and vice versa, to learn from each other and develop cooperation. The U.S. soldiers receive Thai jump wings after the training.
The soldiers also practice sling loading, which lets them move pallets of goods or vehicles by attaching them to helicopters. The training can be onerous and the climate is hot, but soldiers line up for the mission.
About a third of them have been to Cobra Gold before.
“We never have any problems getting volunteers,” Georgi said. “Every one of them wants to come again next year.”
Georgi’s soldiers appreciate the time away from office work and daily responsibilities like guard duty, he said.
“I think the soldiers absolutely love Cobra Gold. It’s uninterrupted training,” Georgi said. “When they’re over here, all they do is train.”
There’s also plenty to do when the job is done, including visiting Bangkok and sampling local Thai food and shopping.
“They’re eating more Thai food than they are MREs,” Dewhurst said.
Some soldiers are planning a trip to see the historic Bridge over the River Kwai, built by Allied prisoners-of-war in northern Thailand.
Soldiers from both countries have forged new friendships, which add to the success of the combined operations. Dewhurst said one day his soldiers returned wearing Royal Thai shirts.
“They did this big uniform exchange.”
They also run PT together, and that has led to soccer matches and other sporting events.
“The PT has really been a great event that breaks a lot of barriers,” Dewhurst said. “All it takes is one simple event to break the ice.”
The social interaction and trips allow his soldiers to leave Thailand with more than the military training they came to do.
“That allows our soldiers to experience Thailand away from the military side of things.”