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U.S., Thai airmen and soldiers partner, jump for freedom

by Capt. David Herndon
Cope Tiger Public Affairs

3/30/2012 - UDON THANI, Thailand (AFNS) -- More than 240 Thai and U.S. airmen and soldiers took part in a personnel drop over Lop Buri, Thailand to close out this year's Cope Tiger 2012 multilateral air exercise between the U.S., Thailand and Singapore which was held here March 12 through 23.

Coined by combined exercise leadership as the largest Cope Tiger bi-lateral freedom jump in its 18-year history, the mission aimed to improve U.S. and Royal Thai Air Force abilities to inter-operate.

"For me, this was good relationship building between the U.S. and Thailand," said Royal Thai Air Force Lt. Nawaphansa Yugala, military free fall parachutist. "I felt very prepared to work with U.S. aircrews today and though I have a lot of training, it was very beneficial to all of us to jump out of the C-17."

The jump personnel were transported by two U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircrews from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, and by two C-130 Hercules aircrews from Yokota Air Base, Japan.

"This was an international version of our Joint Operational Access Exercise that proved that we can accomplish our mission when confronted with tactical challenges that naturally arise with different users and operating environments," said Maj. Joseph Monaco, Cope Tiger Freedom Jump mission commander. "We also exercised interoperability with the Royal Thai Air Force and Royal Thai Army by employing our low and high-altitude personnel airdrop missions as a composite C-17 and C-130 aerial delivery package."

The mobility Airmen were staged out of Udon Thani Royal Thai Air Base Base, Thailand, and readied the transport aircraft for static line and high altitude-low opening procedures. According to Capt. Michael Recker, Cope Tiger C-17 operations project officer, participants learned a great deal from the day-long mission.

"This was a very unique opportunity for our U.S. and Thai airmen and soldiers," said Recker, currently assigned to the 535th Airlift Squadron, at JB Hickam. "We don't get to drop actual personnel as often, especially in such large numbers, and doing so with our Thai partners was an amazing experience."

Recker explained that planning for the freedom jump began in September 2011 at the exercise's initial planning conference.

"The C-130 project officer, myself, and our Thai counterparts determined that a joint personnel drop was what we wanted to strive for," said Recker. "We built on that plan at the final planning conference and a detailed execution plan started about 3 weeks out and the build of that was completed during the three days preceding the drop."

Exercise Cope Tiger aims to enhance readiness and combined/joint interoperability between U.S. Forces, allies and partners within the Asia-Pacific region. Recker continued that U.S. and Thai airmen and soldiers learned valuable lessons through the planning and execution of the jump, ultimately demonstrating capabilities and resolve to support future challenges in the region.

"This was definitely a confidence builder as well as deeply satisfying in that we successfully accomplished the mission," said the captain. "I feel like our relationship and interoperability with the Royal Thai Air Force and Royal Thai Army is now stronger, and I'm excited about building on that in the future."

Cope Tiger is an annual, multilateral joint and combined field training exercise that takes place Korat and Udon Thani Royal Thai Air Force Bases. This year more than 1,900 airmen and civilians participated in the exercise, including approximately 430 U.S. service members.

"This was the ultimate training environment to practice the execution of a complex scenario with multiple weapon systems, users, and methods of aerial delivery," said Monaco. "Our tactics, techniques and procedures can be employed with different nations and users with astounding success."

The exercise included a total of 92 aircraft and 34 air defense units, including U.S. platforms such as the C-130 Hercules, A-10 Thunderbolt II, C-17 Globemaster III, and F-15 Eagle.

Cope Tiger exercise scenarios concluded Mar. 23 and redeployment of personnel and aircraft continue this week.

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