Infantry grunts in the U.S. Army are learning jungle survival techniques during a joint U.S.-Philippines military exercise known as Balikatan. The training operation is being conducted at Fort Magsaysay during the stickiest month of the year in Southeast Asia. Plenty of water is being consumed in suffocating humidity as day time highs reach the upper 90’s in Palayan City.
Over 60 soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division learned survival tactics which included preparing local wild life for consumption. That means cobras, which the soldiers were shown how to kill and eat. For soldiers preparing for jungle survival the high temperatures and terrain provided the perfect mock up.
“It’s important that soldiers are able to survive off the land sustain themselves, especially in environments where there’s not much opportunities for resupply,” said 1st Lt. Nicholas Risher. This is especially valuable at a time when we’re moving out of Iraq and Afghanistan into other environments, and it allows us to be more prepared for conflicts in the Pacific or anywhere there’s a jungle environment.”
The 25th will be training in the Philippines from May 5-15 during the annual Balikatan exercise, which means “shoulder-to-shoulder” in Tagalog. The training is meant to build good will and strengthen camaraderie between units occasionally called together for anti-terrorism missions. The 25th Infantry Division had a decorated history of adaptability, fighting fiercely in operations from Vietnam to Afghanistan since 1941. Jungle readiness another asset for a division ready to deploy at anytime.
Balikatana 2014 is the 30th iteration of the joint Special Forces training operation. Some Filipino civilians have protested the consistent presence of the U.S. military in country.
Despite minor controversy the 10 day mission of good will continues. Beyond survival training, infantrymen will participate in rappelling exercises, martial arts training and stage air assaults. Helicopter training is emphasized, insert and extract training taking precedent during the initial stages of the exercise. Officers from each side have organized humanitarian efforts in conjunction with warfare training. Good will and friendliness between allies important in a region susceptible to terrorism.
Last week during a press conference with Philippine President Aquino, Barack Obama declared the importance of cooperation between allies to better prepare for a wide array of challenges posed by war and natural disasters.
Balikatan an indicator of the continuing good relations between the Unites States and the Philippines, two countries who once engaged in a three year guerrilla war at the turn of the 20th century. The ensuing American victory led to colonization and 48 year occupation before the Philippines was granted independence in 1946.
Seven decades later, when jungle survival expertise is needed, it’s nice to have the Philippines on our side.