Balikatan culminates in 'fire and fury'
May 20, 2014
FORT RAMON MAGSAYSAY, Philippines (May 20, 2014) - Lightning flashed in the night sky as the Soldiers of Comanche Troop silently trekked for nine hours through mountainous jungle terrain toward their objective. From there, they attempted to engage and destroy the enemy through fire and maneuver.
About 250 Philippine and U.S. infantrymen participated in a battalion field training exercise at the end of Balikatan 2014 here, Wednesday and Thursday. Alongside Comanche Troop, 3-4 Cavalry, were their Filipino brothers from the Philippine Army's 20th Infantry Battalion, 8th Infantry Division, and other Soldiers from the U.S. Army's 25th Infantry Division, who had trained together for the past two weeks.
"Terrain, lack of sleep and moving through harsh terrain in low light visibility conditions were just a few of the challenges that we faced," said Spc. Alexander Soulliere, a forward observer with 2nd Platoon, Comanche Troop, 3-4 Cavalry, 25th Infantry Division. "We also had to engage the enemy when we got there and communicating with the Filipinos was very important."
Balikatan is designed to improve cooperation and interoperability between the two nations' armed forces through both humanitarian aid and disaster relief projects, as well as combat skills training.
"Some of the more advanced tactics and techniques of the Americans were different from ours, so it was really beneficial for us to be able to compare and contrast our doctrine with them," said Philippine Army 2nd Lt. Alge Oronan, with the 20th Infantry Battalion, 8th Infantry Division. "Joint operations like these were what I liked the most about Exercise Balikatan. It was a really good opportunity for us to learn."
Philippine and U.S. Soldiers, as well as the opposing force, known as the OPFOR, which is also comprised of experienced Philippine and U.S. Soldiers, were equipped with different weapons systems such as mortars, machine guns, rifles, blank rounds and the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System equipment. The equipment functions similarly to laser tag which starts beeping loudly, indicating a soldier of OPFOR had been shot and was no longer in play.
The Soldiers were divided into either the support element, which was the group responsible for establishing a base of fire on a larger scale and suppressing the OPFOR, or the assault element, which maneuvered to finish them off.
"In a firefight, it's important to coordinate with your team to suppress the enemy before moving on them," said 1st Lt. Jordan Ritter, platoon leader, 2nd Platoon, Comanche Troop, 3-4 Cavalry. "Throughout the past few weeks, we improved our interoperability with our Philippine brothers and we did good coordinating with them to accomplish the mission."
Gunfire broke out early at dawn and continued for two hours, as both Philippine and U.S. Soldiers used communication, coordination and all the combat skills they had honed for the past couple of weeks to fight tooth and nail across rice fields and rolling hills to defeat the opposing force.
"We had to make sure everyone was focused on the objective and supporting the Filipinos," said Sgt. Justin M. Cormany, platoon sergeant for 2nd Platoon, Comanche Troop, who has deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"During training, there was sometimes a language barrier," Cormany said. "In our eyes we saw what we wanted to do, but we might not have been able to communicate that successfully since we didn't always have translators. But by the time we had to conduct the support by fire, everyone was working together and pushing together."
"At the end of the day, we fought our hardest and had a good time," added Cormany.