Sattahip, Kingdom of Thailand – The 39th iteration of exercise Cobra Gold concluded March 6, 2020, wrapping up another year of bilateral cooperation between Royal Thai and U.S. Armed Forces.
While the exercise drew all branches of service from 27 different countries, the bond between Royal Thai Marines and U.S. Marines is a special one.
During the 2020 iteration of Cobra Gold, which took place from February 25 to March 6, and for the first time ever, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit was overall responsible for all U.S. Marine forces for the exercise. This unique leadership role for the Indo-Pacific’s premier crisis response force facilitated bilateral training and partnership that sharpened combat readiness between the forces at training sites throughout the country.
The first large-scale bilateral operation of the exercise occurred February 28, with the Royal Thai Navy and Blue-Green team of the 31st MEU and the USS America Expeditionary Strike Group spearheading an amphibious landing on Hat Yao Beach in Sattahip. Notably, the 31st MEU’s F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft made its first appearance over Thailand during this operation, providing notional close-air support for the maneuver forces, in order to secure the beach for an M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System to conduct a dry-fire mission.
“This year the HIMARS are a part of the 31st MEU, in concert with the F-35s with ground forces, this is really taking it to the next level of warfare and demonstrating to our partners how we can combine our forces to increase our lethality and our capability,” said Col. Robert Brodie, commanding officer of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and responsible commander for all U.S. Marine Corps forces participating in Cobra Gold 20.
Over the next week, U.S. and Thai Marines lived and trained together at various sites throughout Thailand, forging friendships and exchanging their expertise.
At Camp Lotawin, Sattahip Province, elite reconnaissance Marines from both nations conducted multiple live-fire events, parachute operations, helocasting and close quarters tactics training in order to hone both their clandestine insertion and direct action raid skills.
Further east, Royal Thai Marines in Ban Chan Krem, Chanthaburi Province, showed U.S. Marines the ropes in jungle survival training, as the two forces took part in the time honored tradition of drinking cobra’s blood together, in between bilateral live-fire and maneuver ranges.
At Ban Dan Lan Hoi, Sukhothai Province, the bilateral force concluded the exercise with a bang, as HIMARS, M777 Howitzers, 81mm mortars, and the F-35B combined to destroy targets downrange. The bilateral planning and execution allowed the Thai and U.S. forces an opportunity to prepare for real-world contingencies according to 1st Lt. Mikal Ali, a fire support officer with the 31st MEU’s Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.
“The exercise proved to be an effective and efficient proof of concept on the ability for the allied nations to be more than capable of meeting any challenges that could arise in the Indo-Pacific,” explained Ali.
At all three camps, Marines of both nations exchanged their cultures and experiences and formed bonds and sharpened interoperability at the lowest levels between America and its oldest ally in the region.
To Captain Ryan Poitras, a Joint Terminal Attack Controller with the 31st MEU and two-time participant in Cobra Gold, the chance for US and Thai Marines to interact is a cherished one:
“The chance to work with the Royal Thai Marines is a special opportunity,” said Poitras. “Whether it’s over drinking cobra blood together, coordinating fire support, or just sharing a meal in the field, every year Marines make friendships at every level, and strengthen the bond that the U.S. has with Thailand.”
Exercise Cobra Gold demonstrates the commitment of the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States to our long-standing alliance, promotes regional partnerships and advances security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.