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Military preparations are under way for this year’s Balikatan ’06 in the Philippines.

Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base last week sent members of its 36th Contingency Response Group to open Clark Air Base near Manila ahead of the two-week exercise that starts Feb. 20, according to a Friday news release from the base.

“We will go there to train and open Clark Air Base to bed down Air Force airmen and aircraft,” Capt. Susumu Uchiyama of the 736th Security Forces Squadron was quoted in the news release as saying.

Base spokesman Tech. Sgt. Jeff Capenos said the 36th CRG is composed of the 736th Security Forces Squadron and the 36th Mission Readiness Squadron.

“They survey an airfield, look at infrastructure, water, electricity,” determining what they can support, he said.

Balikatan, which means “shouldering the load together” in the Philippine language, is an annual exercise involving the Republic of the Philippines and the United States. This year’s exercise is the 22nd.

About 5,500 U.S. troops and 2,800 from the Philippines will participate, according to a news release from the Joint United States Military Advisory Group-Philippines.

The numbers mark a return to a more traditional size and scope for the annual bilateral exercise. In the wake of extensive U.S. deployments to provide South Asia tsunami relief, the 2005 exercise was greatly curtailed. About 300 U.S. personnel and 550 from the Philippines took part, according to GlobalSecurity.org, a defense information Web site.

Training this year will occur simultaneously on the islands of Cebu, Luzon and Sulu, the news release stated. Events include a combined task force staff exercise, a cross-training and field training exercise involving U.S. Air Force airlift and pararescue members, and humanitarian and civic assistance.

About 250 U.S. personnel and their Philippine counterparts will conduct medical, dental, veterinary and engineering civic action projects on Sulu as part of Project Bayanihan.

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