South Korea joins U.S., Thailand in Cobra Gold exercise
By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 6, 2010
HAT YAO, Thailand — Thai Marines conducting their annual beach assault exercise Thursday saw for the first time another Asian military trudging right beside them across their nation’s coastal sand.
South Korean marines — no strangers to beach landings — joined the Thai and U.S. Marines in an explosion-filled demonstration of power in this part of the six-nation Cobra Gold exercise, which officially kicked off its 29th year Monday.
While the ravages of tsunamis, earthquakes and floods have focused much of Cobra Gold on practicing humanitarian assistance efforts in recent years, Thursday’s pyrotechnics and simulated precision strikes were a reminder of what militaries have always been designed to do.
“It is a violent effort,” said Capt. Don Schmieley, commander of Amphibious Squadron 11 and the Sasebo, Japan-based Essex Amphibious Ready Group. “And it is part of necessary work that sometimes must be done to restore order.”
First, reconnaissance Marines slipped ashore in rubber landing craft and moved into the tree lines. Harrier attack jets then roared over the beach as part of a pre-landing pounding — softening up enemy positions. As part of simulated strikes, pyrotechnics shot a thick water plume hundreds of feet into the air while black smoke billowed from the sandy shore.
Adding to the spectacle, Thai paratroopers jumped from planes and landed behind what would have been enemy lines.
Meanwhile, the smoke pervading the beach got thicker as U.S. Marine amphibious assault vehicles obscured their movement to shore in white haze, though that portion was minimized so the generals and spectators perched on a nearby hilltop could see.
“If this were for real, there would be a lot more smoke,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Denver Applehans said.
The Korean and Thai marines followed with a second wave of amphibious landings, which were followed by joint helicopter assaults and a U.S. Navy hovercraft landing.
About 500 Marines from the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit participated in the beach landing, military officials said.
They were aided by the Sasebo-based USS Essex, USS Harpers Ferry, USS Denver and the Yokosuka-based USS Shiloh.
Getting South Korean marines working with the Thais this year was an important step toward future projects, whether tactical or otherwise, Schmieley said.
“It’s more representative of how we think we’ll do business in this region,” Schmieley said. “It will not be U.S. unilateral action. It will be the U.S. working with multiple partners.”
The beach assault was the largest tactical exercise since Cobra Gold began this week.
While at Cobra Gold, senior officers from the United States, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Indonesia have held meetings to discuss disaster response and international coordination efforts while servicemembers are scattered throughout the country to work on medical and engineering projects in rural areas.
The exercise involves more than 6,000 troops from the participating nations.