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Oregon “Volunteers” increase role in Exercise Cobra Gold training

By U.S. Army Sgt. Armondo Borboa | | February 14, 2012

Having recently come back from a successful combat tour in Iraq, Oregon’s foremost National Guard infantry organization, 2-162 (Volunteers), has once again been called up to lend a hand with military commitments around the world.

Cobra Gold, which takes place in the Kingdom of Thailand, is the largest multinational exercise in the Asia-Pacific region. Exercise Cobra Gold 2012 includes partner nations such as Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Republic of Korea training together to include medical and civil affairs training to combined naval, amphibious, land and air combat operations.

By encouraging cooperative engagement with the Royal Thai Armed Forces, Exercise Cobra Gold builds working relationships between senior members of each nation’s participants and is a vital component to increasing interoperability with participating nations in the Asia-Pacific region. For the National Guard soldiers on the ground, this training provides squad and team leaders the opportunity to sharpen their fieldcraft skills and to re-learn tactics, methods of nonverbal communication and small unit teamwork that might have been forgotten on their high-tech assignment in Iraq.

This is possible because the Royal Thai Army currently operates out of the old US Army playbook, the Field Manual 7-8 for The Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad. Oregon troopers such as platoon leader 2nd Lt. Ryon Skiles are helping to forge lasting bonds of friendship and mutual respect with their counterparts in the Royal Thai Army during bilateral training.

“We are practicing clearing buildings together” said the Junction City, Ore., resident. “There is really no difference (between us) in training.”

“Clearing buildings” is a reference to MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain) a fundamental skill which is essential when conducting operations in an urban environment. Although language and cultural differences are difficult barriers to overcome, the practice of kicking down doors, putting steel on target and taking the fight to the enemy is a universal language shared by all military participants.

“You can tell they are used to working together,” said Junction City resident Spc. Robby Ockerman, regarding the way Royal Thai service members operate. Of course, not everything goes as smoothly as planned.

Surprisingly, the biggest miscommunication so far has nothing to do with combat operations at all. “Our priorities differ a little bit,” admits Harrisburg native Sgt. Brian Mehlhoff. “It’s not a big deal, but it does make for some interesting challenges in unexpected ways”.

One of Headquarter Company’s Non Commissioned Officer’s in charge of Billeting and Housing for the task force, Mehlhoff’s duties include working with a local contractor for laundry services. “We (the American military) are all about individual accountability,” Mehlhoff said. “That’s why we tag and bag our laundry into separate bags, to keep each soldier’s items apart from everybody else’s.”

Thai culture is generally more concerned with efficiency explained Mehlhoff.

“That explains why the first truckload of laundry that came back had everything neatly washed, pressed and folded... but with uniforms in one bundled stack, underclothes in a separate stack and laundry bags in a third.” Despite the occasional cultural misunderstandings, operations have been running steady and the mutual respect between soldiers is growing. “I have never seen any other soldiers do more with less than these (Royal Thai Army) guys,” states Sgt. 1st Class Larry Craig, a platoon sergeant with the “Volunteers”. (They are) dedicated like you wouldn’t believe.” Closing Ceremonies for Cobra Gold will occur February 17, with Task Force Volunteer due to return to Oregon on the 21st.

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