The 29th PH-US Balikatan Exercises (BK13) between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the United States Military concluded last April 17, 2013 at the AFP Commissioned Officers Club (AFPCOC) in Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

After the 17-day Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR)-focused military training, the annual exercises officially closed with a ceremony attended by high-ranking government and military officials including Undersecretary Honorio Azcueta who represented Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, and Chargé d’Affaires Brian Goldbeck who represented U.S. Amabassador Harry K. Thomas. AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, US Exercise Director Lt. Gen. Terry G. Robling, and PH Exercise Director Maj. Gen. Virgilio O. Domingo also graced the occasion.

With 8,000 Philippine and U.S. Military personnel participating, this year’s Balikatan Exercises opened last April 5. The participants conducted Community Health Engagements and Humanitarian Civic Assistance in some parts of Zambales. They also took part in combined staff exercises and field trainings in Camp O’Donnell, Crow Valley, Subic Bay and Fort Magsaysay to improve interoperability and contingency planning.

A Balikatan First

For the first time in the 29 years of the Balikatan’s iteration, Filipino and American soldiers opened the exercise to Cadet Officers of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and other college students. On April 13, twenty-five ROTC cadet officers from the University of the Philippines—Diliman witnessed the Static Display of U.S. Military and AFP, as well as a flight demonstration of some of the U.S. Air Force’s F/A-18 Hornets at the Clark Air Base in Pampanga.

Around 200 military dependents, school children, and reservists joined the ROTC cadets. Aside from the said exhibit noteworthy of being opened to civilians, the Balikatan Exercises also included a demonstration of an explosion scenario and casualty evacuation conducted in Fort Magsaysay witnessed by students from the La Concepcion College in Bulacan.

The F/A-18 Hornets used in the demonstration in Clark Air Base were some of the 12 U.S. fighter jets participating in the annual bilateral military training. Arriving in the country last April, these fighter jets were part of the U.S. Military’s 33-air and naval asset deployment which took part in the Balikatan.

Additionally, nine aircraft from the Philippine Air Force were deployed to assist Filipino and American troops in the BK13 Activities, while the Philippine Navy deployed one of its Islanders and two vessels.

Last April 16 at the AFPCOC, a multi-national HADR roundtable discussion was also held for the first time in the history of the Balikatan. High-ranking military and security officials from Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam, United States of America, and the AFP convened to share optimal practices on HADR operations.

With Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Brig. Gen. Aurelio Baladad from the AFP and Captain Cathal O’Connor from the U.S. Navy taking the helm of the discussion, the delegates shared their respective countries’ practices, roles, and functions on humanitarian and disaster relief.

The said discussion was in line with BK13’s purpose of addressing previous disaster situations that occurred recently in the Philippines, along with supporting the Government in the development of regional disaster management and emergency response mechanisms.  Furthermore, it was also aimed at testing and validating the PH-US Military HADR Concept of Operations in a multinational and multi-organizational exercise.

Engineering, Health Care Projects for Zambales

Meanwhile, 200 Filipino and American soldiers conducted Engineering Civic Action Programs (ENCAP) that benefited eight communities in the province of Zambales. The activities included construction improvements of public structures such as foot bridges and school buildings.

The participating soldiers took part in the following: repair of a suspension foot bridge in Brgy. Tapauc, Masinloc; construction of Barangay Hall and water cistern in Sitio Manggahan, Palauig; construction of two school buildings in Brgy. Omaya, San Narciso; repair/renovation of an elementary school building in Bry. Rabenes, San Marcelino; construction of two school buildings in Sitio Lawen, San Marcelino; renovation of health clinic in Brgy. Nagbayan, Castillejos; and construction of Ferro Cement water cistern in Brgy. Looc, Castillejos.

Participating medical military personnel of the AFP and the U.S. Military also provided free medical, dental and veterinary care to civilians who needed basic care. The Medical, Dental, and Veterinarian Civic Action Programs were held in Brgy. Lipay, Sta. Cruz; Brgy. Inhubol, Masinloc; Brgy. Amungan, Iba; Brgy. Sto. Niño, San Felipe; Brgy. Omaya, San Narciso; Brgy. Marcelino, and Brgy. San Antonio.

BK13 is the 4th HADR-focused Bilateral Exercise, after 2008, 2010, and 2012. Based on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, the combined joint military exercise is conducted every year as a venue for combined training between the Philippine and U.S. militaries and envisioned to help maintain the force readiness and interoperability of the two countries’ militaries in responding during crises and natural disasters.

Shifting towards stronger bilateral military relationship not only with the U.S. but with other neighboring ASEAN countries, the AFP hopes for ongoing partnership with other countries’ military to continue in its goal to achieve global peace and stability.