The heat sank into my skin as I crossed the threshold of the
safe, climate-controlled plane, and into Thailand. More than 200
Soldiers and I de-boarded the plane into the country. The Soldiers
from 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team were part of several military
units sent on the annual mission known as Pacific Pathways, an
exercise held between February to April, 2016.
is meant to build inter-country cohesion between the United States
and its allies in the Pacific. This year the countries included
Thailand, South Korea and the Philippines. The mission was three
months long and the U.S. Army would cross train with the respective
countries' armies and experience the culture of each nation.
This wasn't a normal training mission though. The feeling in the
air was we, as Soldiers, were representing the United States of
America. The next few months were filled with hardships for soldiers
of each nation, but there were times when we would bridge the gaps
of our cultures to find common ground and become brothers in arms.
During a training event, I sat off to the side of a range and
tried to set up a good photo while the sniper section of the
Reconnaissance Platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd
Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 1-2 SBCT, cross-trained with the
snipers of the Royal Thai Army. Several days were spent with the
snipers to teach fundamentals, weapons care and advanced shooting
techniques. Each sniper team consisted of an American sniper and two
At the end of a few days, there was a sniper
competition between the teams. The man who shot the best that day
was from the Thai army. There were hugs and handshakes as the proud
snipers all shared a moment with each other.
I noticed one
of our Soldiers, Spc. Jeremy Degroot, a sniper with HHC, 2-3 Inf.,
had golden tiger patch on his bag that I had never seen before. I
asked him where he got it. He said “In the Thai Army it represents
the best soldier on post. Well, the best soldier and I had a pull up
competition, and I beat him by one. So he gave it to me.”
February 11, 2016 - U.S. Army Spc. Jeremy Degroot, a Soldier with
1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, instructs a Royal Thai Army soldier
about weapons maintenance at Lop Buri, Thailand. Thailand was the
first destination for the Soldiers of 1-2 SBCT as they conduct
Operation Pacific Pathways, an annual exercise the U.S. military
conducts with its allies in the Pacific. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Loren Keely)
Later I was lying in my bunk and storm winds blowing open the
door to where I slept, I tried to remember that good feeling I
experienced earlier. Those soldiers had clearly bridged the gap
between regular army life and friendship. This feeling was hard to
keep it into context when I was so far away from home. I was trying
to balance being somewhere foreign, working all-day and appreciating
the unique opportunity that I was getting by just being there.
By the time I was getting on the plane to South Korea, I was
missing the camaraderie I had built with our Thai counterparts. The
people of Thailand made a huge impression on me.
was a completely different scenario from Thailand. For one, it was
cold; for two, there were already U.S. Army posts where we went. The
training was amazing. I saw many iterations of U.S. and Republic of
Korea Soldiers learning to assault buildings, conduct gunneries, and
perform medical evacuations.
As training started to wind
down, I witnessed a gesture of camaraderie: a platoon from 2-3 Inf.
presented a soldier from the Republic of Korea with a plaque and
said he would always have a place within their platoon. They gave a
speech and the Korean soldier did the same. It was emotional and
heartfelt. There was melancholy in the words that soon meant we
would all leave that place soon.
March 15, 2016 - A Republic of Korea soldiers from the ROK army
137th Infantry, and U.S. Soldiers from 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat
Team, load a casualty into a black hawk as part of medical
evacuation training at Rodriguez Live Fire Complex, South Korea. The
Soldiers of 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team conducted combined hoist
and medevac training with the Soldiers of 3-25 Aviation Battalion
and ROK soldiers as part of Operation Pacific Pathways. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Loren Keely)
During the last week and a half, I was able to visit
downtown Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and take in the
many amazing cultural experiences that that city had to
offer. The people fascinated me; I have never been around
another group of people who showed such a huge work ethic.
The Philippines was the last country on our tour. We had less
time to spend there, but we still had a lot of training to
accomplish. There was Small Arms Marksmanship, jungle training, a
big air assault mission and smaller projects along the way.
One of the projects was a school renovation. The school had small
classrooms that would flood when it rained, which severely hindered
education. Soldiers From Company B, 2-3 Inf., went to this school
and dug a trench to divert water away from the classrooms.
There is one thing I found out about this entire operation; the
training is great, but the relationships are amazing. Seeing
Soldiers help schoolchildren is what makes this job worth it.
April 9, 2016 - A soldier with the Armed Forces of the Philippines
and a U.S. Soldier with Company B, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry
Regiment, 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, help dig a trench for a
local school in the Philippines. This was part of Balikatan 2016,
which is an annual bilateral training exercise between U.S. and
Armed Forces of the Philippine that promotes regional stability and
security. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Loren Keely)
I cannot list the many amazing experiences that I and
other Soldiers had during this exercise. During our final
flight back to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., a Soldier
recalled the jungle training he had been through and spoke
of how he drank cobra blood and killed a pig for sustenance.
He spoke about this moment fondly and with respect.
Thinking back on it all, there were so many memories. In
Thailand there was a man who brought me food every day
because for an hour I talked with him about life. In Korea I
watched the people and admired the hard work that they put
into everything. Finally, in the Philippians I admired the
fighting spirit and the training their soldiers had.
Pacific Pathways was a success
because operations like this are meant to build
relationships between different groups of people. Our
Soldiers not only grew in knowledge and experience within
their Army professions, but also grew as individuals. More
importantly, they grew along side their fellow soldiers from
our allied countries.
If something were to happen in
the world and we needed to fight alongside one of these
great nations, we would be more prepared than ever with our
current knowledge and the understanding of the region and
its people. We made friends and built long-lasting
relationships in every country we visited; if I ever get a
chance to go on this exercise again, I know those friends
are still there waiting for me.
By U.S. Army Spc. Loren Keely
Comment on this article