RAYONG, Thailand - Members of the Washington National Guard and the Royal Thai Armed Forces participated in multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training in Rayong Province Feb. 24 to March 3. The training was part of the 42nd iteration of exercise Cobra Gold, a Thai-U.S. exercise held annually in the Kingdom of Thailand.
The Washington National Guard and the Kingdom of Thailand have enjoyed a special relationship through the State Partnership Program, ensuring U.S. and Thai soldiers can join forces in every situation. Since 2003, the two nations have engaged in subject matter expert exchanges, sharing skills and best practices for disaster response.
“The scope and scale of our decontamination elements are different,” said Washington National Guard Warrant Officer Kristen Retherford, a decontamination adviser with the 10th Homeland Response Force (HRF), 96th Troop Command. “Their system is more of a first responder type system. We as a HRF are used to assisting in larger scale scenarios with more casualties, so it was a learning curve for us.”
The training began with a tabletop planning exercise and panel discussion featuring speakers from non-military international organizations, including the Center of Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance and the International Federation of the Red Cross.
“This year’s tabletop has the largest group of participants,” said Britton T. London Sr., adviser and exercise planner for the CFE-DM. “It was exciting to see the eager participation by all nations who have a lot of experience responding to several types of disasters. The questions asked were designed to get the multinational teams to think of solutions together and to share experiences to learn and grow.”
The practical demonstration was held at the Disaster Relief Training Center in Chachoengsao Province Feb. 28 to March 3. Service members from participating nations conducted hands-on operations, including search and rescue, emergency medical services, medical evacuation, hazardous materials decontamination, and firefighting.
“There was representation from every single country in each group,” said Retherford. “So we learned from each other. We discussed how maybe one country would do it this way, and another country would do it this way.”
This was the first year all participating nations gathered in person since 2019. Attending were representatives of the Kingdom of Thailand, the United States, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Singapore, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the non-military organizations.
“The scale of natural disasters tends to be increasing and involves more and more people,” Retherford said. “We have to get used to helping each other and responding to this stuff so we all have a shared understanding of the system and how to work together no matter what language.”