FORT MAGSAYSAY, Santa Rosa -- Balikatan is a Filipino term meaning "shoulder-to-shoulder" and is an annual exercise involving the U.S. military and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, designed to build bilateral partnership by joining forces to complete humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, as well as counterterrorism training. The completion of Balikatan 2017 ended with a closing ceremony, May 18.

Approximately 5,500 U.S. and the Armed Forces of the Philippines forces conducted a series of humanitarian civic assistance to improve U.S.-Philippine interoperability. During these events, Philippine and U.S. service members conducted multiple engineering civic assistance projects in communities on Panay, Leyte and Samar.

Philippine Army Col. Laurence E. Mina, deputy assistance chief of staff, training and education staff, and U.S. Army Lt. Col. Teddy Kleisner, commander, 1st Battalion 23rd Infantry Regiment, congratulated Philippine and U.S. forces on the completion of their humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training.

As part of the relief efforts during the training, the Philippine and U.S. forces also performed search and rescue missions, disaster relief simulations and first responder training by performing a simulated downed pilot scenario in conjunction with a mass casualty evacuation.

"We're grateful that exercise Balikatan happened for us," Kleinser said, adding that the exercise focused on important security issues for both the Philippines and the United States.

Along with the HADR missions, the combined forces of the Philippines and the United States still managed to perform counterterrorism training, jungle survival training and community relations work to help build classrooms and restore schools.

The 33rd iteration of the annual U.S.-Philippine bilateral military exercise started May 8. The U.S Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, alongside multinational forces from Australia, Japan and the Philippines participated. The exercise heightened interoperability while maintaining a strong partnership that brought multiple countries together, intensifying the spirit of the Balikatan exercise.