By Staff Sgt. Jeffrey SmithFebruary 19, 2014
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska (Feb. 19, 2014) -- Spartan paratroopers with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, demonstrated their unique ability to rapidly deploy and conduct a forced entry airborne assault during Exercise Cobra Gold 2014 at the Khok Kathiam Royal Thai Air Force Base in Lopburi, Thailand, Saturday.
Hosted by the Kingdom of Thailand, Exercise Cobra Gold, now in its 33rd iteration, brings together militaries from eight different nations to improve interoperability among nations that share common interests in peace, security, and economic stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
Participating countries in Cobra Gold 2014 include the United States, the Kingdom of Thailand, Singapore, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Indonesia, and Malaysia. China, participating in Cobra Gold for the first time, was also included in the exercise as an observer nation.
Exercise Cobra Gold 2014 incorporated all military branches from the U.S. and the Kingdom of Thailand.
For its part in Cobra Gold 2014's fictional scenario, the 4-25's mission was to conduct an airfield seizure to allow for follow-on air transport of much-needed vaccines and supplies to an urban area riddled by an outbreak of a deadly influenza virus, and civil unrest. In addition to civil problems, the relatively small indigenous defense force at the airfield was overmatched by a violent, heavily armed group of combative militia that had its own malicious intent for the airfield.
During the very early morning hours and in the darkness of the arctic Alaskan air, approximately 400 Spartan paratroopers, joined by several service members with the Marines and Air Force, along with 20 of their airborne brethren with the Royal Thai Armed Forces boarded five Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.
They embarked from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on a 17-hour, non-stop flight, complete with two aerial refueling missions, and an inflight rig.
Atmospheric conditions at the assault site were strikingly different than in Alaska. When the Spartans jumped out over Khok Kathiam in the late morning hours, ground temperatures were at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with 80 percent humidity.
Many Spartans reported feeling a sudden rush of moist heat inside the aircraft the moment the exit doors opened. The drop zone, coarsely turned crop fields adjacent to Khok Kathiam's runway, lied ahead.
Despite the high temperatures and humidity, the mission commenced. It was a safe airborne operation resulting in no serious injuries. The C-17's made several passes to unload the paratroopers and heavy equipment drops. Open canopies filled the sky as they drifted downward.
Paratroopers' movements on the assault site were faced with challenging terrain, weather, and heavy combat loads, but with a little additional time, the unit was able to clear their objectives and complete the key components of the mission.
Col. Matthew McFarlane, the 4-25's commanding officer, said he was proud of his unit's accomplishments at Cobra Gold 2014, as they built relationships and improved interoperability with armed forces from partnering nations.
"We are ready any place, any time, to do anything, and those three things are uncertain, but what is certain is we are going to do it with somebody else, and that's our close allies," said McFarlane. "So that's what our Soldiers are learning about during this exercise."
Maj. Surachart Ruanwong, a leader with the Royal Thai Army, and one of the 20 Thai service members who jumped into Cobra Gold 2014, said he enjoyed his time training alongside American paratroopers. He was also thankful for his group's recent trip to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where they visited the Spartan Brigade and jumped with its paratroopers onto the Malemute Drop Zone.
"I learned many things, new techniques and new doctrine," said Ruanwong.
First Lt. Richard Payne with the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, and member of the 4-25's advanced echelon, said working together with the Royal Thai Armed Forces has been a great experience. He said he has learned a lot about working with U.S. allies to accomplish missions.
"It's the first time I've ever done something like this, and getting to see the backside role of how something like this actually happens. There's a lot that goes into it."
Capt. William Longwell, a future operations officer with the 4-25, said the Spartan Brigade benefits from the multinational exercise by providing paratroopers with operational experience in a full-scale airborne assault and airfield seizure.
"For 4-25, all the way down to the lowest level, it helps us with the partnership with fellow countries, getting used to working with different nations, getting used to working with their military, and how they do things, and introducing them to how we do things. It helps all Soldiers on all different levels, all the way from our brigade commander, all the way down to the lowest level private."
Spartan paratroopers wrapped up their training at Khok Kathiam the morning of Feb. 16. The whole event culminated with a traditional airborne wing exchange ceremony at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Special Warfare School in Lopburi. Paratroopers from each nation pinned their home country's airborne wings on their allies' chest as a symbol of their airborne brotherhood.
The Spartans' final stop in the Kingdom of Thailand was at the U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield where they boarded U.S. Air Force C-17s and departed for their home in Alaska.
Upon arrival in Alaska, paratroopers jumped out and landed on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's Malemute Drop Zone.
Cobra Gold 2014 further validates the Spartan Brigade's constant state of readiness and its capability to quickly amass combat power in response to crisis contingencies in the Asia-Pacific region.
Spartan training will continue as the brigade maintains readiness by prepping for an arctic airborne operation north of the Arctic Circle and an upcoming Joint Readiness Training Center rotation at Fort Polk, La.