November 25, 2014 (by SSgt. Cody H. Ramirez) - The 36th Airlift Squadron participated in Exercise Max Thunder 14-2, flying alongside Republic of Korea military counterparts to integrate their airlift capabilities in a simulated combat environment.
Capt. Shawn Hooton, 36th AS C-130 Hercules pilot, conducts a low-approach over Gwangju Air Base, South Korea on November 19. 2014, during Exercise Max Thunder. [USAF photo by SSgt. Cody H. Ramirez]
Max Thunder is a biannual, large-scale employment exercise aimed at increasing U.S. and ROK interoperability and ultimately enhances the two countries' commitments to maintain peace in the region.
"We are the only C-130 airlift piece in the Pacific, so it is critical that we have this experience on the peninsula," said Maj. Andrew Baker, 36th AS weapons and tactics flight commander. "When the call goes out from the commanders in South Korea, [anything from humanitarian relief to combat operations], we are right next door and we are going to support them with whatever they need."
These exercises highlight the longstanding military partnership, commitment and enduring friendship between the two nations, help ensure peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and reaffirm the United States' commitment to stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
"We are actually participating with the Korean C-130s in our formations and flying with a lot of Korean fighters ... we are committed to them; we are committed to their people," Baker said.
ROK and U.S. forces participating in the exercise have the ability to accept follow-on forces. Interoperability with dissimilar aircraft, like the Yokota C-130s flying with fighters, enables aircrew members to be battle-ready for many potential situations.
"One of the things we are limited to here at Yokota is we have to fly high for our low-level training -- about 1,000 feet above ground level," Baker said. "When we get to Korea, we can get as low as 500 feet above ground level.
"Into the Korean peninsula, we are going down low and getting familiar with the terrain, and that's going to really help us if we ever need to exercise that option," Baker added.
According to Capt. Shawn Hooton, 36th AS flight commander, Korea offers certain mission complexities that cannot be replicated anywhere else.
"Radio procedures are slightly different, the terrain is challenging, but not substantially hazardous, and the coordination process is entirely specific to Korea," Hooton said. "Not to mention, we are sitting in Japan planning a flight in Korea, 700 miles away."
The 36th AS was able to showcase their combat airlift capabilities in the simulated contingency operation, taking advantage of the training opportunity.
"We were very lucky to complete our training," Hooton said. "Any occasion [where] we plan a training flight, any number of limiting factors could potentially cancel our mission. It could be inclement weather, unavailability of airspace or a slew of other potentials."
But, Hooton said that is the nature of the mission here, and his team is prepared for those cases.
"We plan, we flex, we fly, and then we flex some more," Hooton added.
Max Thunder is part of a continuous exercise schedule, strengthening the U.S.-ROK Alliance and helping both nations fulfill their obligations to the Mutual Defense Treaty. The exercise is a regular training event held twice a year.