CLARK AIR BASE, Philippines - In front of a multitude of distinguished visitors, a dozen soldiers from the Philippine Army's Special Operations Force leap from a C-130 troop transport aircraft during a High Altitude Low Opening jump onto their objective far below.
A short time later, after the Philippine SOF consolidated and secured their objective, helicopter gunships from the Philippine Navy swooped in and provided suppressive fire by way of their 30 millimeter chain guns.
On a hot morning that topped 100 degrees, approximately 200 Philippine soldiers and marines from the Armed Forces of the Philippines participated in a joint live fire exercise in Crow Valley Range Complex, May 15, which was part of a larger cross-training and interoperability field training exercise that marked the third and final phase of Balikatan 2014. This year is the 30th iteration of the annual bilateral exercise which involves U.S. military and AFP personnel and subject matter experts from Philippine Civil Defense agencies.
The LFX show-cased the Philippine, American and Australian armed forces operating together in concert to achieve a common objective. The command and control element for the exercise was Joint Task Force -National Capital Region. During Balikatan they were partnered with soldiers from the Arrowhead Brigade Combat Team, out of Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington.
"This Joint Task Force HQ performed command and control duties for today's combined arms live fire exercise and successfully ensured the synchronized employment of air and land elements to achieve their objective," said Lt. Col. Jarett Broemmel, officer in charge of the Arrowhead Brigade's Balikatan 2014 team and commander of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry. "Although operating in stifling heat, the entire organization remained motivated and delivered successful results."
In the scenario, Philippine AFP simultaneously stormed their objectives by air and land, utilizing rotary wing support, indirect fire, close air support and ground forces.
Initially helicopter gunships dispatched their target, while artillerymen sent indirect fire down on the second objective a short time later, and close air support from both Philippine and U.S. Air Forces ensued.
The joint fire training exercise culminated when 11th Marine Battalion Landing Team started their ground assault while Filipino infantrymen from Company B, 20 Infantry Battalion, 8th Infantry Division, swooped in on MV-22 Ospreys and secured the second objective to complete the final maneuver of the exercise.
"The purpose of this exercise was to showcase the capabilities and the interoperability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, with not only their own services but also with U.S. and Australian military forces," said Maj. John Hawbaker, executive officer for 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment.
Leaders from 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division provided subject matter expertise to the JTF-NCR, who exercised command and control of the LFX by directing forces during the actual event, and by coordinating the multinational, joint forces rehearsals over three days of preparatory training.
The reason for the rehearsals were for Philippine forces and their U.S. counterparts to reach shared understanding of key actions before conducting the live fire exercise later in the week. Its intent was to allow the participants to become familiar with all parts of the impending operation and to translate the separate components of the tactical plan into a visual impression of the entire operation.
"The combined arms rehearsal allows the JTF-NCR commander to ensure the plan is synchronized and to observe subordinate leaders explain how each element will contribute to a successful operation," said Broemmel, "The number of participants is impressive and is representative of the partnership of the annual Balikatan exercise."
The collective effort of the Philippine Armed Forces and their United States military counterparts resulted in a successful exercise that demonstrated the partnership between these two longtime allies. The motivation and fitness of the soldiers was immediately apparent as they exited aircraft on the landing zone or military vehicles and moved at a full sprint to get into the right position. Their preparation over the last two weeks was evident as they performed the final maneuvers of the combined arms live fire. The leaders of the Philippine Army and Marine forces operating in the ground said they were excited and proud to be a part of the exercise.
"As a company commander, I was blessed that I took part in this exercise and I have experienced leading troops in this kind of exercise," said 1st Lt. Robbi Cruz, Philippine Army company commander, Company B, 20th Infantry Battalion, 8th Infantry Division. "I think this alliance between the U.S. and the Philippines is very important to us because ... it gives us security."