By Eamon Hamilton
The return of Exercise Teak Action has strengthened ties between Air Force’s No. 37 Squadron and its United States Air Force (USAF) counterparts.
Held from RAAF Base Richmond over June 24 to July 2, the bilateral exercise focused on airborne operations training to airfields across regional New South Wales.
The USAF’s 353rd Special Operations Group (SOG) brought three MC-130J Commando II aircraft and approximately 100 personnel from Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa.
Together with No. 37 Squadron C-130J Hercules crews, they flew complex training scenarios to deliver people and cargo under challenging circumstances, and bring them home safely.
Both units have conducted annual training and other engagement activities together since 2016, although CoVID-19 led the exercise to be cancelled in 2020.
Wing Commander Anthony Kay, Commanding Officer No.37 Squadron, said his unit appreciated the 353rd SOG making the trip to Australia for Exercise Teak Action.
“Their willingness to complete the quarantine as a condition of entry highlights the value they place on training with us, and in particular the importance of the relationship between Australian and US Forces,” Wing Commander Kay said.
“Both parties learned an immense amount and achieved a lot in a surprisingly short time, ultimately planning and integrating together as smoothly as two Australian units normally would.”
“Despite the challenges that CoVID provided, I’m confident both teams are looking forward to the next iteration, and we’re really grateful for the time they took to come and work with us.”
Exercise Teak Action included scenarios with No. 3 Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and No. 1 Security Forces Squadron.
For No. 37 Squadron, the exercise allowed its newly-established Combat System Operator (CSO) workforce to be mentored by experienced CSOs with the 353d SOG.
A subset of the Air Mobility Officer role, the CSO is responsible for operation various communication systems, sensors, and other specialist equipment on the C-130J.
“The 353rd SOG regularly employ capabilities that we have started to develop,” Wing Commander Kay said.
“It has been great for our team to see how our American partners conduct some of these missions, and rewarding for our personnel to see how far and how fast we have progressed.”
Following Exercise Teak Action, No. 37 Squadron will continue working closely with the 353rd SOG in the Northern Territory during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2021.
Major Walter Mitchell, 353rd Special Operations Group Mission Commander said the commitment shown by personnel at Exercise Teak Action had been strengthened.
“The operations were some of the most valuable training repetitions that both the 353 SOG and our Australians counterparts have been able to accomplish since the onset of CoVID-19,” Major Mitchell said.
“All parties involved were able to effectively integrate and execute while still mitigating the CoVID risk.”
“This training has allowed for the highest quality of interoperability to continue in the future.”
The MC-130J flown by the 353rd SOG appears similar to the RAAF’s Hercules, but is equipped with specialist systems for its primary role of supporting special operations forces.
Squadron Leader Nicholas Bourke, a C-130J pilot at No. 37 Squadron, said Exercise Teak Action allowed the RAAF to develop its capabilities.
“The 353rd SOG is an active and experienced unit in our region,” Squadron Leader Bourke said.
“As we share C-130J capability across the Indo-Pacific, we need to maintain high levels of interoperability to respond effectively and collectively to security challenges.”
“The opportunity to enhance interoperability and overcome the challenges of working together at the tactical level is really important.”
Exercise Teak Action allows No. 37 Squadron and the 353rd SOG to cooperate on joint operations, from providing humanitarian assistance to working in more complex scenarios.
“Activities like this are a key part of being ready to do the job anytime, anywhere,” Squadron Leader Bourke said.
An image gallery for Exercise Teak Action 21 is here.