Operation Tiger Balm underway at Bellows - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Operation Tiger Balm underway at Bellows

WAIMANALO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The annual bilateral combined training exercise known as "Tiger Balm" is now underway at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows. Since 1981, the U.S. Army has been training with the soldiers of the Singapore Army.

 The 30-year-old exercise is part of the United States Army Pacific Theater Security Cooperation Program which aims at strengthening ties by sharing tactics, techniques and procedures among the two nations. Army officials say it promotes stability and security in the region while increasing the interoperability of the two militaries.

And there's no stronger bond between nations, than shared sacrifice. Today's battlefield was the urban training center at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows.

A platoon from the Singapore Army was joined by a squad of "Wolfhound" soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

The men were following up intel, looking for a high value target in the simulated Afghan village, looking to find the man believed to be behind IED's (Improvised Explosive Devices) being made in the area.

Two Stryker vehicles took up positions along the outside walls of the village and deployed soldiers from both armies.

After moving into the complex, Squad Leader Sergeant Joshua Castleman questioned a "village elder" role played by a fellow colleague dressed in Afghan clothes.

"You don't know him?," asked Castleman pointing to another "local" villager. "Is he bad guy, or good guy?

"Good guy," replied the elder.

"You don't know him?" said Sgt. Castleman, "then how do you know he's good?

The soldiers have to communicate and work together if they want to survive...under fire.

"Sniper! Building 40," yelled a U.S. soldier.

The soldiers returned fire using "blank" rounds at the sniper's location as casings flew in the air.

"I know we're kind of just shooting blanks and just kind of simulating right now, but it gives them a kind of 'warm and fuzzy' of where contact can come from," said Sgt. Castleman.

After talking with the "village elder" Sgt. Castleman informed the Singapore Army's platoon leader, "Hey sir, he's willing to take himself with Aghani police to those buildings to search for weapons." If you want my element to take lead that's fine, or I can stay here and maintain security."

The Singapore leader replied, "Maintain here. This is our mission, we stay here."

The group had taken on fire from a simulated rocket propelled grenade (RPG) early on when they entered the village. They then suffered a casualty from the simulated sniper fire to add to the training chaos.

A Singapore soldier with a medic raced into the building to treat the wounded soldier.

"Treat him first, then we move out," said the Singapore leader to his men. Communication is key.

"They speak five languages most of them, said Lieutenant Colonel Todd Fox, Commander of the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment. "So when they get excited, you'll hear English with a hint of Malay, hint of Mandarin. So, sometimes they through in a few extra words, no different we do with our English, then you'll hear a Spanish word here and there. It's been a bit of a challenge, but its been great for our guys to work through it."

The sights of Afghan props and simulated sounds of village life add to the training, as do 10 "smell generators' positioned around the village which create multiple types of scents from coffee beans in the marketplace to the smell of rotting flesh.

"For him to be on an objective...trying to control his platoon or his squad is one thing, but doing it with the background noise of dogs barking and explosions and aircraft flying by, and the smells as they kind of get to you, it really does add to the realism, said Lt. Colonel Fox."

"This is a good training facility," said Castleman. "I've actually been under contact numerous times, small arms, RPG, IEDs so its good for the new soldiers who haven't been deployed to actually, kind of see what's going on."

According to Lt. Colonel Fox, "The two things that the Singaporean soldiers take the most out of this training is the work that the Asia Pacific Counter IED cell has done to help replicate some of the threats that we're seeing in the world today. And two, "they're not used to working with civilians on the battlefield," he added.

"The opportunity to conduct operations and have civilian considerations is somewhat new to them. So we've had a great opportunity to expose them to some of that," Fox added.

"We learn alot from them, just as much as they learn from us," said Private First Class Samuel Rozier with 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry who roleplayed another Afghan villager. "So, I think today went really well."

The soldiers debrief and review their urban training exercise to learn from any mistakes made or improvements that are necessary.

Over the course of the Tiger Balm exercise this month, a total of 684 soldiers will be involved, according to Army officials. The majority of them, 351, are from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25 Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks. 159 soldiers are from the Hawaii National Guard, 52 soldiers with the Oregon National Guard and 122 soldiers with the 5th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment.

Tiger Balm 2012 consists of a brigade-level command post exercise and a company-level field training exercise. Tiger Balm rotates being held in Hawaii and Singapore locations. Years ending in an odd number take place in Singapore and even ending years in Hawaii.

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