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Cope North 2019 Week 2: Weathering the storm, strengthening alliances

During COPE North 19, Japan, Australia, and United States Air Forces joined together to practice humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions so that when disaster strikes, these allied nations can work together to help out their partners.


Within 24-hours after Super Typhoon Wutip passed, COPE North forces resumed executing rapid response capabilities by establishing a bare base and contingency runway on Tinian, a small island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands.

“In three days we went from exercising planning, to contingency response, right back into exercise execution,” said Col. Jason Cockrum, U.S. COPE North 2019 exercise director and 35th Fighter Wing Operations Group commander. “I’m really proud of our partner nations Japan and Australia and the ability and the strength of this team to make this transition and to continue on making these alliances even stronger.”

The alliance continued to prove their ability to provide rapid deployment of assets in response to a contingency operation.

“Planning was affected a bit by the storm, but didn’t significantly change anything,” said Squadron Leader Benedict Whalley, RAAF service member and Officer in Charge of the medical care facilities on Tinian.

Whalley, and other medics were responsible for providing urgent care and assisting in aeromedical evacuation scenarios. Much like his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Whalley thought the real-world delay helped to illustrate a realistic response to a humanitarian aid event that could take place after a large natural disaster.

“These and other recent events show that this exercise is based on response to real-world scenarios,” said Whalley. “Not only can scenarios like this happen, but they have happened in the last year. We have to come together to provide these sort of aeromedical evacuations in the field. This training is the same response that we would provide in a real world scenario. ”

In October 2018, Super Typhoon Yutu rocked the Northern Marianas island chain, causing massive amounts of damage and destruction in its path.  This led to humanitarian assistance and disaster response from many of the units who are participating in COPE North. These units brought real world experience to strengthen the effectiveness of the multilateral scenarios on Tinian.

Home to more than 3,000 people and about 200 kilometers from Guam, Tinian is in many ways a remote locale. It houses numerous plant, animal, and sea life and has a long history related to military affairs spanning from the Spanish colonial era to strategic use in World War II. Practicing here, far from home, under intense conditions, and with partners is an important part of maintaining readiness.

“We do these exercises a lot at home, but it’s entirely different to do it out here,” said Whalley. “It’s nice to see how differently we do common things. Seeing how the U.S. and [Japanese Air Self-Defense Force] do things makes us look at our own practices and how we can improve and better integrate into a single force.”

Lessons learned are transferrable on a large scale amongst the services. U.S. Tech. Sgt. Tyler Waters, 36th Contingency Response Group (CRG) noncommissioned officer in charge of mobility operations, said these scenarios provide a kind of training that nothing else can.

“COPE North helps us at the CRG with our deployability,” said Waters. “Of course, we all know our jobs really well and can do them on any given day. But the rapid deployment and the logistics that it takes to get all this stuff out the door, rapidly, to any location within the Pacific, that's where this exercise really helps.”

Consisting of more than thirty different jobs, the mission of the 36th CRG is to train, organize, equip and lead cross functional forces, providing initial presence to potentially austere forward operating locations as directed by Commander, Pacific Air Forces.  For Waters and his mates at the CRG, getting the chance to work with other countries is the most important investment of the exercise and the one most likely to pay dividends in the future.

 “When a disaster hits, we won’t have a chance to train,” said Waters. “Exercising with our partners right now from Australia and Japan makes all of us more prepared for deployment and redeployment. Working together makes us better, faster, more integrated and more capable.”

One of the final events of this week that proved the strength of the alliance within the region was a search and rescue (SAR) scenario, mimicking the need to remove the passengers of a simulated aircraft crash from harm’s way. The lead planner for this scenario, Tech. Sgt. Brett Darby, a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialist with the 36th CRG explained the importance of working together towards a common goal.

“Our nation’s all have our own unique way of completing missions with our own strengths and weaknesses,” Darby said. “When our goals align, especially when lives are at stake, we become immeasurably stronger together. I am always impressed every time I see our three nations working towards the same goal.”

This year’s SAR event was a prime example of the challenges that warfighters and medical experts consistently overcome in the event of a real world response to keep the Indo-Pacific region, and the people in it, safe and secure.

“At the end of it all,” said Darby. “We watched a rescue helicopter lift off, as we stood arm in arm knowing we had saved the crew of a down aircraft from a very nasty situation.  We did that together, to reach one common goal, strengthening our already solid partnerships, as one alliance.”

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