SAMAESAN, Thailand (Feb. 19, 2009) – --
As the only forward deployed Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Asia-Pacific region, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit is constantly on call and out at sea. Throughout the year, the MEU conducts a variety of exercises and operations focusing on humanitarian assistance, military operations, and most often, bilateral training. Exercise Cobra Gold 2009 is no exception.
From Feb. 7 through 17, approximately 800 Marines and sailors with the 31st MEU, along with its ground combat element, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines; logistics element, Combat Logistics Battalion 31; and aviation combat element comprised of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced) and Marine Attack Squadron 211, hit the ground and airspace of the Royal Kingdom of Thailand and conducted various training events with the Royal Thai Armed Forces. Training included mock amphibious assaults, helicopter raids, Noncombatant Evacuation Operations as well as Jungle Warfare Training and Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear defense training, all focusing on military interoperability and strengthening professional partnership with the Royal Thai armed forces.
According to Lieutenant Col. Stuart Lockhart, the executive officer of the 31st MEU, Cobra Gold ‘09 was an excellent opportunity for the Marines of the MEU to reinforce their jungle tactics and fortify teamwork and cohesion with the Royal Thai Armed Forces.
“The purpose of Cobra Gold as a whole is to work together during operations, critique each other and show our strong suits,” said Lockhart, a South N.J. native. “It allows us to work together. We can learn, and they can teach us their jungle tactics.”
Whether it was during classes, demonstrations or execution of mock raids and assaults, the Marines and Royal Thai service members worked together exceptionally well. During raids, the Royal Thai forces showcased their experience with jungle patrols and maneuverability through thick vegetation to ensure the missions ran as smoothly as possible.
For 2nd Lt. Jonathan Liang, a platoon commander with India Co., 3/5, the Royal Thai Marines shared their expertise, changing a routine boat raid into a learning lesson for their American counterparts.
“The Thai Marines shared their ideas, tactics, techniques and procedures, providing a learning experience for Marines who were not as familiar with the environment,” said Liang, “The cross-pollination made a good experience for both sides, learning each others boat SOP’s (standard operating procedures) and angles for conducting the boat raid on the beach.”
For the Marines on the ground, the experience not only taught them about the procedures for the moment in the jungle, but a deeper understanding of their Marine Corps ethos and traditional infantry tactics.
“It made me realize a lot of Marines forget their basic infantry skills as they relate to jungle warfare,” said Sgt. Cody Alterman, a squad leader with Co. I, 3/5. “With the Marine Corps’ focus on desert operations, this was a great way to sharpen skills that may have been forgotten over time.”
Marines from both countries placed further emphasis on jungle tactics during Cobra Gold’s Jungle Warfare Training evolution. Thai Marines with the Royal Thai Marine Reconnaissance Battalion, Co. A, showed the MEU Marines methods of establishing shelter, using native wildlife, fruits and plants for nutrition, and jungle-environment medical procedures.
“Jungle Warfare Training really teaches you how to survive off the available food. Out in the wild, you only get to eat what you catch,” said Sgt. Chris Lehmuth, a team leader with the MEU’s ground sensor platoon. “Throughout the entire exercise of Cobra Gold, there has been a great exchange of knowledge, this training right here possibly being the most beneficial.”
Though there is little doubt lessons learned during Cobra Gold enhanced the abilities of the MEU Marines, benefits were felt on the Royal Thai side as well.
“This is my 5th year to participate in Cobra Gold, and every year the (U.S.) Marines have great discipline and tactics to teach,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Pissonot Prongtole, a parajumper trainer and Sattahip, Thailand native. “We enjoy learning about the Marines’ equipment and weapons.”
Cobra Gold marked as another successful training evolution for the 31st MEU, as its Marines left with much more than they came with. From military education to the experience of melding in with another culture, the Marines and sailors with the MEU enhanced their interoperability capabilities, forged a long-lasting partnership and strengthened international ties with the Royal Thai Armed Forces.