May 29, 2017 (by Capt. Jessica Tait) - Members of the 353rd Special Operations Group increased military cooperation with the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) during the fourth iteration of Exercise Teak Net, which took place April 15-18, 2017 at RNZAF Base Auckland and April 18-28, 2017 at RNZAF Base Woodbourne, New Zealand.
RNZAF C-130H #NZ7002 prepares to redeploy to RNZAF Base Auckland following the conclusion of Exercise Teak Net on April 28, 2017 at RNZAF Base Woodbourne, New Zealand. [USAF photo by Capt. Jessica Tait]
"The military cooperation between the U.S. and New Zealand is important as we attempt to address some of the world's greatest challenges," said Col William Freeman, 353rd SOG commander. "Exercise Teak Net is a classic example of a perfect exchange in which we are learning a lot from our partners in the areas of maintenance, medical and flying operations. We have reciprocated through instruction on a few of our different techniques, tactics and procedures (TTPs)."
After a 25-year absence, the 353rd SOG returned to New Zealand in 2014 to build-up the relationship with RNZAF 40th Squadron.
"This year we focused on further developing our partnership capacity and interoperability with 40th SQDN through low-level formation work and tactical operations on night vision goggles (NVGs)," said Maj. Mark Schmidt, mission commander for Exercise Teak Net. "The professional foundations and friendships established over the previous three exercises enabled this year's training to progress to the next level."
The group deployed with 40th SQDN to RNZAF Base Woodbourne as a part of their largest annual exercise.
"While executing Exercise Teak Net, we were fortunate enough to deploy with our Kiwi partners as they conducted Exercise Skytrain," said Schmidt. "We lived and worked in the same spaces and conduct daily sorties together, which has never happened before."
New Zealand's unique mountainous terrain provided the ideal environment for the MC-130H Combat Talon II to conduct day and night visual low-level and operations with their terrain-following radar, which enables the 1st Special Operations Squadron to infiltrate areas undetected and at night by hiding in the terrain and weather.
"This is some of the best flying and training I've ever had," said Capt. Valerie Knight, 1st SOS MC-130H Combat Talon II weapons instructor pilot. "This trip is very comparable to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) exercises that we do and the kiwis have done a great job of sharing what they've seen downrange and encompassing that into the scenario."
In addition to general flying operations, Special Operations Forces Medical Element (SOFME) personnel conducted a subject-matter expert exchange with RNZAF medics from Woodbourne Air Base, which culminated with a low-light, low-level casualty evacuation (CASEVAC).
"The main purpose of our engagement was to work closely with our host nation partners, share experiences and exchange TTPs," said Tech Sgt. John Rinaldi, 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron SOFME medic. "I think both sides learned a lot during the CASEVAC exercise and overall it was a huge success."
The 353rd SOG had the opportunity to showcase the critical role they play in the Pacific to the U.S. Embassy New Zealand Chargé d'Affaires and staffers during a visit, April 19-20, 2017.
"The Chargé d'Affaires stated this is the closest the U.S. and New Zealand militaries have been in 30 years and attributes these exercises to helping build that relationship both militarily and politically," said Schmidt. "For the first time since our group has returned to New Zealand, we have been asked to participate in their ANZAC Day parade and we couldn't be more honored. This year's exercise has truly been the pinnacle of interoperability with the New Zealanders."
Exercise Teak Net is an annual joint, combined exchange training (JCET) focused on improving interoperability between the U.S. and New Zealand militaries.