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Hawaii Guard, Philippines Train on Search and Rescue Skills

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mysti Bicoy,
  • Commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific

SAN FERNANDO, Philippines - The Hawaii National Guard engaged in an urban and mountain search and rescue subject matter expert exchange with the 505th Search and Rescue Group, Philippine Air Force, and the 525th Engineer Combat Battalion, 51st Engineer Brigade, Philippine Army.

This Aug. 15-31 event enhanced disaster response and interoperability for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

The U.S. Pacific Fleet Pacific Partnership 2023 supported the exchange. The training included mountain search and rescue, focusing on ropes rescue for three days, followed by three days dedicated to urban search and rescue.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to work side-by-side with the Hawaii Army National Guard Soldiers, the Armed Forces and partnerships in the Philippines,” said Tech. Sgt. Jane Cabusao, 154th Medical Group Detachment 1, urban search and rescue team member. “We were able to collaborate on our technical skills as well as gain an understanding of our cultures.”

Participants practiced collapsed structure rescue, shoring, confined space rescue, urban search and rescue structure identification, and structure assessment signs and markings. The exchange culminated in a comprehensive earthquake simulation.

“We work with the host nation and our partners and try to find ways to increase capacity in the ways that they already have been training,” said Capt. Aaron Hew Len, 93rd Civil Support Team chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high yield explosives officer in charge. “In this case, we worked on a medical line of effort, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief line of effort. We identify readiness capability gaps or limitations and continue to improve.”

Acknowledging strengths and weaknesses is pivotal when developing effective plans and processes. 

“There’s not always going to be a perfect execution in a situation fraught with fear and disaster,” he said. “But if we can think through the processes we were trained on in these scenarios, we can be successful.”

Training exercises like these offered Hawaii National Guardsmen knowledge, skills and opportunities to collaborate with services they don’t typically interact with. Yet, for 1st Sgt. Rodolfo Acosta, a Hawaii Army National Guard Soldier who left his home country at the age of 4 and returned as an adult, this experience allowed him to contribute to his community.

“Being born here and being Filipino is like helping the community that is so close to my hometown,” said Acosta. “Giving them my experience and knowledge in urban search and rescue is important because Filipinos live in a place that has so many natural disasters. At least I get to kind of help out and share my knowledge.”

Hew Len said Filipino-American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen helped make the exercise a success.

“I am grateful for the positive impact of individuals with Filipino-American heritage, transforming the environment into a family-oriented one that significantly improved interactions with partners in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.

Pacific Partnership, now in its 18th year, is the longest-running multinational humanitarian assistance disaster relief mission in the Indo-Pacific. Each year, the mission team collaborates with host and partner nations to enhance regional interoperability and disaster response capabilities, bolster security and stability in the region and nurture friendships.