Bengals work hard in Thailand

6 Mar 2009 | Sgt. Gina C. Rindt

During their six-month Western Pacific deployment, Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224 will conduct air combat training and community relation projects. They are currently deployed to Khorat Air Base, Thailand in support of training a Cope Tiger.

While continuing to integrate with Marine Aircraft Group 12 at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, VMFA(AW)-224, also known as the Bengals, were able to take a break from the long hours of maintenance and enjoy different parts of Japan by visiting Osaka, Hiroshima, Miya Jima, Mizuho and Nagano where the winter Olympics were held in 1998.

“We significantly scaled back flight operations, from a maintenance and personnel stand point, in order to prepare for the flight across the Pacific.” said Maj. Sean Henrickson, the VMFA(AW)-224 operations officer. “Training opportunities in Iwakuni are constrained because of airspace limitations and the training ranges are too close to the island.”

Marine  All-Weather  Fighter Attack Squadron 224 currently has 33 pilots and more than 150 Marines in Thailand where the F/A-18 Hornet fighter pilots will be training with many foreign aircraft. Some of the aircraft are Thailand’s F-16 Falcon and Aero L-39 Albatros, the U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagles and A-10 Thunderbolt and Singapore’s F-16s and F-5/E Tiger IIs, which will help simulate air-to-air and air-to-ground combat.

The Bengals are involved with Cope Tiger, an air-to-air and air-to-ground combat training exercise involving the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, Republic of Singapore Air Force and the Royal Thai Air Force.

“The relationships we build with these nations, through these exercises have a significant impact on stability and U.S. presence in this part of the world,” Henrickson explained.

The training the Marines will receive while deployed to Cope Tiger will be air-to-air combat, which focuses on foreign air combat maneuvering versus Thailand’s F-16s and F-5s. As the exercise progresses, they will begin to fly Large Force Exercises with all of the participants. This will be an opportunity to gain mission commander qualifications and division leader qualifications for some of the pilots, Henrickson said.

“Apart from the robust flight operations, there are opportunities to engage the Thai people with community relations activities to include school and orphanage visits,” Henrickson continued. “There will be several trips to historic locations such as the Phimai ruins, Bangkok and a chance to watch Muay Thai kickboxing live.”

To show their appreciation for their involvement in the community, the RTAF had a ceremony for the U.S. Armed Forces, which included Thai dancers, Muay Thai kick boxing and local cuisine.
“The warm reception we received from the RTAF and RSAF service members as well as the local populations is indescribable,” Henrickson said. “We are provided an opportunity to see fascinating parts of the world we may otherwise never see.”