U.S., ROK civil engineers strengthen alliance during PACUNITY

by Staff Sgt. Jake Barreiro, 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Osan Air Base

JUNGWON AIR BASE, Republic of Korea  -- Civil engineer Airmen from the Republic of Korea and U.S. air forces strengthened their joint partnership and sharpened their emergency response skills during Pacific Unity June 9 through 11 here.

PACUNITY is a U.S. Pacific Command event focused on improving Theater Security Cooperation within the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. The operation builds partnerships and promotes interoperability by creating an environment where civil engineers can work together and exchange experiences. Engineers from the U.S. and ROK discussed and worked together in several areas such as emergency management, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, general engineering, environmental security and energy conversation.

Together, the civil engineers completed an Airfield Damage Repair scenario. The ADR tested the team's ability to restore an inoperable runway to operational status as quickly as possible. Being able to work in tandem with each other is an essential aspect to the U.S. and ROK alliance.

"If we were to go to war, it would require a combined effort between us and our Korean counterparts," said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Miguel Millares, 8th Civil Engineer Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, ROK, and officer in charge of ADR for PACUNITY 2015. "Just being able to have our processes on the same page when it comes to command and control when we do our repairs is of the utmost importance."

Being able to work at the tabletop and on the scene with Koreans is a boon to American forces, Millares said, a sentiment shared by his ROK counterpart.

"We're always looking for chances to simulate wartime situations and during wartime the Republic of Korea military and U.S. military are going to be working in a combined manner, so we're always looking for opportunities to conduct exercises and combine," said ROKAF 2nd Lt. Kim Sung Kyum, Air Force Operations Command plans and coordination office at Osan Air Base, ROK. "This is a great opportunity for that. The advantage here is that you get to meet different people from different places and broaden your understanding about how each military works.

The ADR scenario simulated a successful attack on a mock airstrip, leaving two larger craters and six smaller ones that rendered the runway inoperable and requiring quick repair. Working as a team, the engineers labored to repair the craters, excavate and fill the earth and reestablish the airfield lighting system all while operating heavy machinery.  U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jacob Sherrer, 773rd Civil Engineer Squadron equipment operator from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, said he and his teammates overcame the traditional language barrier with Koreans by using easy to understand hand signals, commonplace on the job.

"We need to be prepared for translation and other forms of communication," Sherrer said. "I think it helps that we have hand signals, being an equipment operator. It's pretty universal. Safety is paramount and with all the heavy equipment you can't always hear and you can't always see. So, we utilize as many forms of communication as we can."

Communication being key, Airmen from the U.S. and ROK remarked on their abilities to overcome the language barrier. Enlisted and officer translators on the Korean side proved critical in aiding communication among team members. Learning to communicate together helped the civil engineers understand and work past procedural barriers, becoming better teammates in the process.

"A lot of what we're doing is learning what our Korean counterparts do," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Raymond Brown, 8th Civil Engineer Squadron from Kunsan AB. "They use a different system than we do. They have different rules ... but it's good because, if something serious happened and we had to work together, we'd want total capability applied. It helps us streamline our performance, so in the event of a serious incident we could quickly integrate with our counterparts to maximize effort."

Kim reiterated the sentiment for ROK Airmen.

"At first, there was a lot of cacophony on the field, because many things hadn't been coordinated beforehand, but together we've improved our coordination and understanding of how each other work," Kim said.

Repairing large-scale damage at a moments notice is arduous, but it's undertaken to increase Theater Security Cooperation, and the importance of maintaining security in the Korean theater is one Airmen from the U.S. and ROK both acknowledged.

"Exercises like Pacific Unity are tremendous opportunities to reinforce already strong partnerships between the Republic of Korea and the U.S. militaries," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Kyle Ficke, 51st Civil Engineer Squadron on-site commander from Osan AB. "This kind of interoperability through the collaboration of civil engineering capabilities postures us to thrive operationally should the need for a bilateral response to a contingency arise in the area."

Airmen from both countries said the exercise left them better prepared to accomplish their job and more confident in their abilities to respond to an emergency and support theater security.

"We're seeing how we can better equip ourselves if we're ever in the situation to have to do this," said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Justin Emanuelson, 354th Civil Engineer Squadron from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. "It gives us a little bit of variety and a chance to reach out to other countries and make sure that we're able to work along side with them side by side. I've been able to ask them and see how their training is, and its very similar in a lot of ways and it has been a lot of fun."

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