Thais, Americans join forces for Teak Torch exchange training Published May 8, 2008 By Master Sgt. Marilyn C. Holliday 353rd Special Operations Group Public Affairs KADENA AB, Japan -- The language of friendship forged through any communication barriers as Royal Thai air forces and the United States Air Force joined together for exchange training here recently. About 130 members from the 353d Special Operations Group, whose home station is Kadena, traveled to Udon Thani Air Base, Thailand, for Exercise Teak Torch. "The joint combined exercise training events are designed to enhance U.S. military training and are conducted in many countries in the Pacific Command area of responsibility each year," said Lt. Col. Toby Wong, mission commander. "JCETs also enhance bilateral relations, contribute to regional stability and increase interoperability." Pararescuemen and combat controllers from both nations conducted friendship personnel airdrops from the group's Combat Shadow MC-130P throughout the exercise. Thai jumpers, many whom had never jumped at night and some who had never been a part of water survival airdrops were a part of daily airdrops. "The first time I left the plane it felt good and then strange to land in the water," said Thai Major Surapond Apitachapan, Special Operations Regiment squadron leader. "Normally we jump twice a month, with this exercise we jump every day and are able to correct our mistakes." Even though the two militaries speak different languages, there were no differences when it came time to exchange information and train together. "When Americans want to tell us something, sometimes they must show us for us to understand," said Flight Sergeant First Class Nathaphun Junkeeree, a pararescueman from the Search and Rescue Division. "In the end, we all do the same job, even though we are from different places." Along with PJs, security forces and aircrew members were paired up for exchange training throughout the annual exercise. "It's a unique opportunity for us to demonstrate our specialties and train with Thai forces," said Staff Sgt. Sarah Valdovinos, 353d SOG security forces member. "It's good to know that we can all work together." Emergency responders from both nations also exercised together and brought together medical, security and safety personnel. The 353d SOG, the Air Force's only special operations forces assigned to the Pacific region are referred to as the Air Commandos of the Pacific. In addition to the Combat Shadow, the group also maintains and flies the MC-130H Combat Talon II. The 353d SOG is a 750-member strong organization, with its headquarters at Air Force Special Operations Command. The U.S. has participated in JCETs within the PACOM AOR since 1984.