CAMP O'DONNELL, Philippines --
Standing together on a hot black top overlooking a firing range, more than 300 service members with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Combat Logistics Regiment 35, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, were in formation to commemorate the official start of exercise Balikatan 2013.
Balikatan, which means “shoulder-to-shoulder,” is an annual bilateral military exercise conducted by AFP and U.S. forces to strengthen regional partnerships and increase military interoperability and readiness. The exercise, in its 29th iteration, instills camaraderie between forces through shared training and cooperation, which further enhances a combine capability to respond to real-world operations.
While related opening ceremonies took place across the Philippines, this marked the official start of the field training exercises within the Camp O’Donnell and Crow Valley area.
“Balikatan emphasizes and shows that we are committed to the region,” said U.S. Marine Robert Castro, commanding officer of CLR-35, 3rd MLG. “(Being here) indicates the importance of the event, and gives a chance for the Marines and sailors to stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” in a formation as one.”
Philippine Marine Capt. Recto C. Pumares, officer in charge, Philippine Transportation and Maintenance unit, echoed the same sentiment as he welcomed the U.S. Marines.
“I would like to welcome the U.S. Marine Corps led by Lt. Col. Castro,” said Pumares. “You will be here with us for two weeks, and we hope that we can learn a lot from your expertise. Thank you and welcome.”
Finding common ground is not uncommon and according to Castro, “Their core values are similar to ours. Their values of honor, duty and valor are aligned with our values of honor, courage and commitment, and coincide with what we do in our missions and the way we handle our Marines.”
Immediately following the ceremony, the formation dispersed into mixed training platoons with the purpose of integrating Philippine and U.S. forces.
Working together to develop solutions to challenging problems will be key for participants during the FTX. Designed to hone U.S. and AFP on divergent skillsets, the FTX will challenge participants in their ability to effectively communicate with one another while providing combat service support to exercise participants across the region, explained Castro.
Combined forces will conduct mounted convoy operations, tactical recovery and movements of vehicles, establishment of convoy defensive positions, jungle survival and warfare training, vehicle maintenance classes, including a Filipino “M35 Wrecker,” combat lifesaver training and a series of community relations projects in the local area.
Balikatan offers a full range of experiences for all participants, while opening each service member to new challenges.
“This exercise gives the Marines a different perspective. I consider it as lateral thinking, not just as our own military processes, but we are getting the opportunity to see how someone else conducts business and maybe learn a better process, that we might be able to use those skills at a later time,” said Castro.