USS ESSEX, At Sea (Mar. 4,2010) – --
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and U.S. Forces came together aboard the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) for the final planning phase of exercise Balikatan 2010 (BK’10), Feb. 27 – March 3.
Twelve Republic of the Philippines Marine and Navy officers worked side-by-side with their U.S. counterparts from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), Amphibious Squadron 11 (PHIBRON 11) and USS Essex to coordinate the details for joint helicopter, mechanized, and boat raids for the exercise. Additionally, the planners worked on the details of a community relations project, an engineering project and three medical and dental missions scheduled to take place throughout the Luzon region.
“They’re right there alongside participating in all those planning meetings and the planning of the operations and exercises as a whole,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Weber, commander of PHIBRON 11.
The joint planning conducted was a key element in the success of future bilateral training events scheduled during BK’ 10, said Col. Raul Caldez, commanding officer of 2nd Ready Force Battalion, Philippine Marine Corps.
“This bilateral planning and training helps both countries to be interoperable with one another by helping us identify our capabilities and limitations for future military operations,” he said.
Some of the planners viewed this as an opportunity to enhance this year’s exercise.
“We are looking forward to working very closely with the U.S. military to make this exercise even more successful than in the past,” said Maj. Ronjon Razon, an operations officer with Headquarters, Philippine Marine Corps.
U.S. Capt. Ross Schellhass, company commander for Weapons Company, BLT 2/7, said he was grateful to have a chance to work with his counterparts from a close U.S. ally.
“We’re building strong relationships with a strong partner,” Schellhass said.
Balikatan, which translates to “shoulder-to-shoulder” in Tagalog, is an annual bilateral exercise that is part of a long-term security assistance program; which includes a 58-year mutual defense treaty between the Republic of the Philippines and United States. And due to such long history, both sides are looking forward to improving on previous performances by working together and applying past lessons learned.
“Our purpose through the execution of Balikatan is to work hand-in-hand through bilateral operations and exercises with the Philippine Marine Corps,” said U.S. Lt. Col. John Reed, commanding officer for Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines (BLT 2/7), 31st MEU. “It’s our plan to leverage the experience of those who had come before us to do what they’ve done well and not to make mistakes that had been done in the past.”
Razon echoed the BLT 2/7 commander.
“By looking at the way U.S. Marines and sailors conduct operations, we want to take away as much as possible and share some of our experience in the field,” said Razon.
The MEU and PHIBRON 11 team are currently scheduled to participate in BK’10 March 19, and will continue on their spring patrol of the Asia-Pacific region.