“Balikatan” is a Filipino expression which translates to "shoulder to shoulder" or “shouldering the load together” and epitomizes the spirit of the bilateral Philippines-U.S. military training exercise bearing the same name.
It’s safe to say that a joint team of U.S. military personnel here has taken that expression to heart, working tirelessly over the last several months to coordinate U.S. participation during the exercise, which officially began April 5.
“Every person here plays a critical role in making sure Balikatan is successful,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Kevin Sampels, logistics director and officer-in-charge of the Joint Exercise Control Support Group (JESG) coordinating U.S. participation during exercise Balikatan 2013.
U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific – acting as the U.S. executive agent and coordinating with the Armed Forces of the Philippines – has been augmented by personnel from all branches of the military. The JESG provides direct support to these forces.
For most of March, the small team consisted of about 15 personnel. Some flew to the Philippines directly from Thailand following exercise Cobra Gold. Many worked exclusively out of local hotel conference rooms before transitioning to Camp Aguinaldo, April 4.
The group has served as the nerve center for all U.S. involvement, taking the lead on everything from drafting contracts and working with Philippine vendors to offloading gear and transporting cargo to locations throughout the Philippines.
He added that in addition to these logistics and contracting specialists, others have been playing essential roles: personnel specialists track the constant flow of U.S. service members arriving in the Philippines, force protection managers monitor the local security environment, and communication experts ensuring that everyone can talk to one another.
It’s all part of the effort to make sure the troops on the ground have what they need, he said, and the team’s seamless integration with Philippine counterparts has been a large part of his focus.
“Coordination with the (Armed Forces of Philippines) and their participation during the planning conferences has been critical,” said Sampels. “This is a bilateral event, and if we’re not joined at the hip, it’s not going to happen.”
In mid-March, Philippine and U.S. service members started humanitarian civic assistance projects throughout Zambales province. Military engineers are constructing and repairing schools and other community infrastructure, while medical personnel have been offering free medical, dental and veterinary care.
Balikatan also trains both Philippine and U.S. armed forces to provide relief and assistance in the event of natural disasters and other crises that endanger public health and safety.
Additionally, command post and field training exercises are scheduled to take place in Camp O’Donnell, Crow Valley, Subic Bay and Fort Magsaysay.
Sampels said that without support from a dedicated staff, these humanitarian events and training activities could never take place.
“The behind-the-scenes stuff is just as important as the sexy stuff going on in the field,” said Sampels. “I could not be more proud of what the folks here are doing.”