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III MEF Feature Stories
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U.S. and Philippine senior military leaders furl the exercise flag at the closing ceremony to conclude Balikatan 23 at Camp Aguinaldo, Manila, Philippines, April 28, 2023. Over the last three weeks, more than 17,600 personnel trained shoulder-to-shoulder across the Philippines’ northern Luzon and Palawan, increasing proficiency in maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban operation, aviation operations, counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tyler Andrews)

Photo by Cpl. Tyler Andrews

Shoulder-to-shoulder, Philippines and United States conclude largest Balikatan exercise

28 Apr 2023 | Courtesy Story III Marine Expeditionary Force

The Armed Forces of the Philippines hosted the closing ceremony of Exercise Balikatan 2023 here today, marking the successful conclusion of the largest combined-joint military exercise between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America.

Over the last three weeks, more than 17,600 total combined troops from the AFP and the U.S. military, joined by approximately 100 members of the Australian Defence Force, trained shoulder-to-shoulder at locations throughout the Philippines in order to increase proficiency in maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban operations, aviation operations, counterterrorism operations, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

The ceremony was attended by several distinguished leaders, including Philippine Department of National Defense Senior Under Secretary Carlito G. Galvez Jr.; U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay L. Carlson; AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Andres C. Centino; U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Commander, Adm. John C. Aquilino; Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, and the U.S.

Forces Balikatan 2023 exercise director Lt. Gen. William M. Jurney; and commander of the AFP’s Education, Training, and Doctrine Command and AFP Balikatan 2023 exercise director Maj. Gen. Marvin N. Licudine. Servicemembers from each of the participating countries and military services were in attendance, including representatives from 11 countries taking part in the exercise’s international observer program.

The ceremony opened with a combined honor guard rendering honors to the commanders and distinguished visitors. Attendees saluted as “Lupang Hinirang” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” played, setting the stage for senior leaders to share their observations on all the participants accomplished during the exercise’s 38th iteration.

“Balikatan serves as a learning opportunity, especially for the AFP to enhance skills, knowledge and expertise of our soldiers corresponding to different tactical situations in order to protect and preserve our territory and better serve the Filipino people,” said Maj. Gen. Licudine.

Throughout the exercise, Balikatan created opportunities for personnel from the AFP and the U.S. military to work together in support of regional and global security. The two allies advanced their capabilities and improved interoperability across multiple domains and mission sets throughout the exercise. Such interoperability is vital as the allies pursue parallel force modernization efforts.

“This year’s Balikatan saw several innovations that showed the evolution of our alliance,” said Ambassador Carlson. “In addition to being unprecedented in terms of size, our forces also introduced cyber and space elements into the exercise scenario, showing that our seven-decade old alliance is constantly evolving to address 21st century challenges.”

The largest and most complex iteration of Exercise Balikatan to date incorporated several historic firsts, a sign of the growing complexity of the exercise and its responsiveness to modern 21st century challenges the allies share. Some of the notable features in this year’s exercise included an inaugural bilateral cyber defense exercise and the first-ever combined joint littoral live fire exercise which involved sensing, targeting and engaging a target ship at sea with bilateral ground and aviation-delivered fires. During the exercise, three humanitarian civic assistance projects were also completed in the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Antique and Aurora.

The high-profile training events drew a litany of senior commanders, elected officials and distinguished visitors to observe the training. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Ambassador Carlson and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Lindsey W. Ford joined Gen. Centino, Lt. Gen. Jurney and other commanders to watch the action as the combined force engaged the decommissioned Philippine Navy corvette BRP Pangasinan during the combined joint littoral live fire. This marked the first time in 12 years that a Philippine president attended Balikatan.

“It is evident that all our exercise goals were met and achieved, which contributes greatly to our escalated effort to build a credible defense posture,” stated Centino. “We believe that sustained training with our allies and widening the scale of interoperability among our militaries are the most effective ways to achieve this over the short-term.”

Adm. Aquilino emphasized the importance of Balikatan for the strength of the U.S.-Philippines security alliance.

“The integration of our strong bilateral ties and a robust security network of likeminded nations is evident by those that are in the crowd today,” said Aquilino. “That group of nations come together always to deliver one thing and that is a likeminded set of focus areas to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific that enables prosperity, stability and peace for all of our nations.”

Balikatan prepared the combined forces for potential future crises, contingencies and disasters and increased each country’s ability to work together to protect Philippine interests, support local populations and provide for a safe and secure Indo-Pacific region.

“We also understand and appreciate that the mutual defense treaty between the United States and the Republic of Philippines is more than just a piece of paper. It’s a manifestation of shared values,” said Lt. Gen. Jurney. “I believe we came out of the exercise more capable than when we arrived and better able to develop and employ a full range of capabilities when confronted with challenges and acutely aware of what is required to operate in a multi-domain environment.”

With the casing of the Exercise Balikatan flag by Lt. Gen. Jurney and Maj. Gen. Licudine, concluding comments for the ceremony described the significance of the Philippine-U.S. alliance.

“The participation of military contingents of several nations is an explicit demonstration of solidarity for peace and stability in the region.” said Secretary Galvez Jr., the guest of honor for the ceremony. “Rest assured that the Philippines will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States of America in defending our cherished democratic matters and in working towards the peace, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific Region for generations to come. As I have said, our alliance is very alive, it’s very strong, it’s ironclad.”