Story by Natalie Greenwood.
U.S. Airmen with the 353rd Special Operations Wing (353rd SOW), 492nd Special Operations Wing (492nd SOW) and the 1st Special Operations Wing (1st SOW) deployed to the Philippines for Balikatan 22, March 28 – April 8, 2022. The Airmen assigned to three Air Force Special Operations Wings worked with members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and U.S. armed forces counterparts for the two-week exercise to strengthen relationships and operate in an austere environment. “One of the reasons we are out here is to engage with our partner force,” said Maj. Matthew Roese, the 353rd SOW Mission Commander. “We came out here to Balikatan to do a tactics, techniques, and procedures exchange with the AFP.”
The exercise started with friendship jumps between the two nations using an MC-130J assigned to the 353rd SOW, while the crew of the AC-130J Ghostrider conducted close air support training, and members of the 6th Special Operations Squadron exchange tactical ideas with Philippine Air Force pilots.
“This is the first time that the AC-130J Ghostrider has operated out of the Philippines for Balikatan since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Maj. Dave Bartolome, a weapon systems officer for the AC-130J Ghostrider with the 1st SOW. The Airmen experienced other firsts during the exercise as the 353rd SOW’s Deployed Aircraft Ground Response Element (DAGRE) worked with the Philippine National Police on a new exercise zone agreement.
The newly established exercise zone agreement allows DAGRE to arm and defend U.S. Air Force assets and people in exercise zones alongside their Philippine counterparts, explained a DAGRE member. Airmen assigned to the 353rd SOW continued to work and execute the mission despite facing the challenge of an engine change mid-exercise to an MC-130J Commando II.
“It’s very uncommon to do an engine change when you’re on a temporary duty assignment, especially for the damage we had on the aircraft,” said a maintainer with the 353rd SOW. “But it was cool just working with everyone and seeing everybody coming together to get the job done.”
Military members from the 353rd SOW demonstrated appreciation to the local community through a charitable donation to the Social Development Center and a day of activities, including shopping for the local girls’ shoes and school supplies, a luncheon, and games.
“Meeting and supporting the young girls at the Social Development Center was a rewarding and eye-opening experience for our team,” said Master Sgt. Destinee Jones, the 353rd SOW Staff Additional Duty First Sergeant. “The girls we met are amazing with bright futures, and I believe we learned just as much from them as they did from us! It’s important to us that we foster these community ties during current and future Balikatan missions.”
From Clark Air Base, members represented the 492nd SOW by exchanging tactical procedures with Philippine Air Force members assigned to the 15th Strike Wing. U.S. Air Force Maj. Dan Jackson, a Combat Aviation Advisor with the 6th Special Operations Squadron even found a fellow U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, now a Philippine Air Force A-29 Super Tucano pilot.
“This is a very good venue to learn from each other,” said Philippine Air Force Major Dennis Marzo. “It doesn’t really end here on Balikatan. The connections and network we develop here we use after to continue talking and learning from each other. The deployment came to a close and Airmen from across all three Special Operations Wings reflected on what they learned throughout the exercise.
“Everything boils down to relationships. Being able to come out here and speak face to face with somebody I never thought I’d be able to talk to is what builds trust,” said Capt. Joshua Malpass, an AC-130J Ghostrider aircraft commander with the 1st SOW. “The experiences I’ve gained out here are incredible, and I’m to be able to take that back to our squadron and show them what I’ve learned from these professional aviators.”
This story by Lance Cpl. Natalie Greenwood was first published by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service on May 2, 2022. DVIDS publishes content in the public domain.
Photo: Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippine Special Operations Command conduct a military freefall jump from a U.S. Air Force MC-130J Commando II during Balikatan 22 over Royce Drop Zone, Philippines, March 28, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Levi J. Guerra)