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Thais Teach U.S. Soldiers to Survive in Jungle

By Sgt. Marcia Triggs, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

THONG SONG, Thailand, May 19, 2000 – Trapping a cobra for food and determining what jungle plants are edible are only a few survival tactics Alaska-based U.S. soldiers learned here during jungle warfare training at Exercise Cobra Gold 2000.

Soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, at Fort Richardson, Ala., were left in awe as Thai army 1st Lt. Pansak Thongsuk showed them how to stay hydrated and where to find food in the jungle.

If there's no water, drink the blood of a chicken, Thongsuk told his charges. Another Thai soldier demonstrated the technique, starting by killing a chicken with his bare hands.

Setting up campsites, getting water, trapping animals, cooking and learning how to identify poisonous plants were the main skills the U.S. soldiers learned.

"This training can save their lives, because it gives them the confidence to know that they can use what's around them to survive if they ever get lost," Thongsuk said. The jungle warfare training he passed to the Americans is information he received from his ancestors.

"Everything that has happened in the past has been taught to the next generation," Thongsuk said. "The weapons, traps and old myths we speak of all came from our forefathers."

One myth the soldiers learned was that cobra blood and whiskey provide stamina. After trapping and killing a cobra, the Thai soldiers drained its blood into a tin cup of whiskey. As a way of communicating their appreciation for the training, American soldiers tasted the mixture.

"These are our counterparts, and what we can't say in words, we express by partaking in their traditions and sharing ours," said Sgt. 1st Class Freddie L. Whitehead, a platoon sergeant.

Another cultural experience the U.S. soldiers gained was from tasting Thai-style cooked cobra, chicken and iguana.

"The food is tougher and much spicier than I'm use to, but it is edible," said Spc. Michael D. Shelton. "I learned that if I needed to I could do this to survive."

Thongsuk had a training area set up and encouraged the U.S. soldiers to practice. That way, he said, they wouldn't fear the animals as much, would be able to recognize deadly plants, and they would build self-confidence.

Besides learning new tactics, Army platoon sergeants here said they wanted their soldiers to learn to work and communicate with other soldiers around the world.

"This type of environment is totally new for some of these soldiers," said Whitehead. "They're not used to training in this heat or some of the customs. What's important is that they see there's another world out there and they need to know how to exist in it."

(Army Sgt. Marcia Triggs is stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and is on assignment with the Cobra Gold Combined/Joint Information Bureau in Thailand.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA Thai soldier demonstrates a survival technique of drinking chicken blood to ward off thirst in the jungle.   
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