FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii – U.S. Army Pacific deployed Soldiers and equipment to the island nation of Palau Sept. 7, using both air and sea delivery means in a training exercise to demonstrate defensive capabilities in support of the Compact of Free Association agreement and commitment to a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.Soldiers from the 17th Field Artillery Brigade, based in Washington State, maneuvered from Guam to the Republic of Palau as part of the regional exercise Defender Pacific 20. Forces deployed by air to Angaur Island and received an Army logistic support vessel carrying a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), as part of simulated archipelagic defense.“This bilateral effort with the Republic of Palau allowed us to validate our strategic reach and assure our partners and allies of our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Col. Brandon Anderson, 17th FAB commander. "As always, the Thunderbolts remain ready to support missions across the INDOPACOM area of operations."The exercise validated the unit’s ability to communicate across greater distances with theater assets and employ HIMARS across the Indo-Pacific if needed.The training marks the second time the 17th FA BDE operationally employed a HIMARS by Army watercraft. The first time was during the Rim of the Pacific Exercise 2018 in Hawaii and demonstrated the Army’s ability to employ offensive and defensive capability throughout the region.The exercise also marked the culmination of recent U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Joint Force efforts to support Palau through infrastructure projects. U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo aircraft transported Army equipment and Soldiers to validate the recent expansion of the Angaur airstrip by Marine Corps Forces Pacific during Exercise Koa Moana and as part of the Angaur Airfield Joint Improvement Project.U.S. Ambassador to Palau John Hennessy-Niland described the importance of American forces operating in the region.“From my perspective, it is vital for the [United States] to demonstrate a persistent presence here in Palau and across the greater Indo-Pacific region,” said Hennessy- Niland. “We have enjoyed a partnership for the past 75 years with Palau, and it is as strong as ever. Military elements such as the Civic Action Team, Task Force Oceania liaisons, and exercises like Koa Moana 20 and Defender Pacific play important roles in demonstrating that presence and commitment.”Following Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s Aug. 28 historic visit, the Defender Pacific 20 exercise also reaffirmed Republic of Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific and reinforcing international rules and norms.U.S. Army Pacific worked closely with the U.S. Embassy, the government of Palau, and the Joint Region Marianas command in Guam to minimize risk of exposure to COVID19 through 100% testing and strict quarantine measures. All soldiers tested negative for the virus prior to their arrival to Angaur.