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Exercise BALIKATAN Kicks off in Philippines

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2000 – About 2,500 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines will mark a U.S. return to the Philippines this month when they participate in Exercise BALIKATAN 2000 this month.

The joint, combined-arms training exercise with Philippine forces represents the first time since 1995 the two long- time security partners have participated in such a military endeavor.

The exercise is designed to improve U.S.-Philippine combined planning, combat readiness and interoperability for a wide range of operations from humanitarian assistance to peacekeeping missions, according to BALIKITAN 2000 spokesperson, Army Maj. Ann Freed.

Phase I of the exercise, which included a Joint Task Force Seminar and tabletop exercises, began Jan. 31 and ran through Feb. 6. But the big event – the joint, combined arms training exercises – don’t begin until Feb. 21. They will run through March 3.

Freed said U.S. forces will cross-train with their Philippine counterparts at the small-unit level throughout the exercise, culminating in an amphibious landing on the island of Luzon on Feb. 28. A majority of the U.S. forces participating are based in the Pacific, although some CONUS-based units will also be involved.

U.S. forces will also provide humanitarian assistance.

“We’ll be setting up some medical, dental and veterinary clinics, as well as building some schools and digging wells in some of the more remote locations,” Freed said. U.S. military personnel will provide shots, basic dental care and perform inoculations on livestock to help prevent spread of disease.

The exercise name – translated from Filipino to English – means “shouldering the load together.” It is the 16th in the series of exercises that began in 1981.

“This is the first time we’ve been back on Philippine soil on this scale in five years,” Freed pointed out. “The Philippines realized that there was a growing technology gap between themselves and U.S. forces and we're interested in joint training.”

Additionally, she said Philippine assistance in East Timor demonstrated a need to re-institute the exercises.

“Whether it’s disaster relief or contingency operations, the Philippine government realized that they must be able to work easily with other nations in a joint environment,” she said. “Experience is telling us we’ll be doing more of this in the future.”

BALIKATAN exercises are also scheduled annually for the next three years.

“This is a very small exercise, but its importance is very large,” Freed said. “It represents the kind of training we can all expect to do in the future, and it’s a country we’re going to work with on some level – whether it’s contingency or relief operations. So all these aspects make it good training, and a chance to get to know the Philippine people.”

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