HAT YAO, Kingdom of Thailand --
As the rotors of the helicopters chop their way through the dust and debris of the landing zone, a bilateral force of 75 U.S. and Royal Thai Marines wait in anticipation. When the helicopters touch down, scores of Marines pour from the back and into the tree line. So begins their mission.
Marines and Sailors from Company C., Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, conducted a bilateral helicopter raid alongside their Royal Thai Marine counterparts as part of exercise Cobra Gold 2013 here, Feb. 16.
The integrated force inserted via one CH-53E Super Stallion and four CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced) to secure a small town more than a kilometer from the landing zone. The raid marked the third major operation conducted by the two forces for Cobra Gold, an annual exercise co-hosted by the two nations for the past 32 years.
“Cobra Gold allows us to cross-train with our Thai counterparts, share knowledge and strengthen our relationship,” said 2nd Lt. Jacob Zalewski, a platoon commander with Headquarters and Service Company, BLT 1/5, 31st MEU, and a native of Phoenix, Ariz. “The Royal Thai Marines are the subject matter experts when fighting in this environment, we have to take what knowledge we can from them.”
Seconds after touching down in an open field, Royal Thai and U.S. Marines rushed out and secured a perimeter around the helicopters.. Once the "birds were in the air," the force consolidated into a tactical formation and entered the dense jungle.
Maneuvering through thick foliage, the international Marine force situated themselves into advantageous positions around the occupied town without being spotted. The Marines of Company C. set up support by fire and security positions while the Thai platoon took the assault role .
The division of forces allowed the Marines to efficiently accomplish their mission, but also provided each side with a valuable training opportunity. The U.S. Marines gained experience in jungle operations and the Royal Thai Marines gained experience in urban assault.
“Today, we were able to improve our skills in an urban environment, something we can use against an opposing force inside of structures,” said Pvt. Sarunyou Fhanin, a rifleman with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Royal Thai Marine Corps.
During Cobra Gold, numerous bilateral events ranging from amphibious assaults to non-combatant evacuation operations are planned during the two-week long exercise. Each training event aims to improve interoperability between the participating forces and to develop their individual capabilities.
“Every time we train with the U.S. Marines, we learn something new," said Sgt. Kyoon Dennanong, a platoon sergeant with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Royal Thai Marine Corps.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.