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Teak strengthens aerial ties

July 14, 2021 (by Eamon Hamilton) - Exercise Teak Action has strengthened the ties between Air Force's No. 37 Squadron and its United States Air Force (USAF) counterparts. Held at RAAF Base Richmond from June 24 to July 2, the bilateral exercise focused on airborne operations to airfields across regional New South Wales.

RAAF C-130J #A97-448 from 37 Sqn lifts off from the RAAF Base Richmond runway during Excercise Teak Action 21. [Photo by CPL David Said]

The USAF's 353rd Special Operations Group (SOG) brought to Australia three MC-130J Commando II aircraft and about 100 personnel from the Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa.

They flew complex training scenarios with No. 37 Squadron C-130J Hercules crews 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 Exercise Teak Action was cancelled last year because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Commanding Officer No. 37 Squadron Wing Commander Anthony Kay said his unit appreciated the 353rd SOG making the trip to Australia for the exercise.

"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 learnt 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-19 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 353rd SOG.

A subset of the air mobility officer role, the CSO is responsible for operating various communication systems, sensors and other specialist equipment on the MC-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."

The 353rd SOG Mission Commander Major Walter Mitchell said the commitment shown by personnel on Exercise Teak Action had been strengthened.

"The operations were some of the most valuable training repetitions that both the 353rd SOG and our Australian 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-19 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 allowed 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.

No. 37 Squadron will continue working closely with the 353rd SOG in the Northern Territory during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2021.

Courtesy of Royal Australian Air Force

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    USAF MC-130J Commando II #12-5763 from 1st SOS lifts off from the RAAF Base Richmond runway during Exercise Teak Action 21. [Photo by CPL David Said]