"This year is the third year in a row where the 353rd SOG has come to New Zealand," said Maj. Christopher Izell, Exercise Teak Net mission commander. "Every year we come to not only learn and grow with our New Zealand counterparts, but also build upon the friendships established over the years."
During the 2-week exercise, MC-130H Combat Talon II aircrews from the 1st Special Operations Squadron worked with their counterparts from the 40th Squadron while conducting airdrops, formation low level flying and night vision training to improve interoperability between the two countries’ military.
"Every time we come to New Zealand we leave with new techniques and procedures," said Master Sgt. Ryan Gossen, 1st Special Operations Squadron loadmaster. "It really is interesting to see how New Zealand loadmasters work. We are very similar, but also have a few different approaches to conducting our missions. Every year we continue to share ideas and really benefit from this exchange.”
In addition to flying, both U.S. and New Zealand medical personnel trained side-by-side on casualty evacuation procedures while flying on an MC-130H.
"This was very valuable training," said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Tremel, 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron. “I enjoyed working together and learning about each country’s capability. The time we spend here will definitely enhance future combined medical operations.”
Learning to survive in different environments is also important, so U.S. and New Zealand Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialists came together to plan a personnel recovery exercise. Groups from the U.S. Air Force and the Royal New Zealand Air Force practiced their evasion skills as they navigated their way through the New Zealand forest.
“With the RNZAF and US being close coalition and FVEY partners, it is important for us to learn from each other. In this PR exercise we saw just that. While we had both US and RNZAF evaders on the ground, they started off as two separate teams evading in one group,” said Staff Sgt. Tyler Wise, 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron. “But as the exercise went on they became one team and started sharing tactical-level information on evading, radio procedures, navigation and local flora and fauna. Overall, the learning outcome was great and we were able to solidify the already existing relationships with our RNZAF SERE counterparts."
While the mission was completed over the course of the nearly three week exercise, lasting friendships were also created or cemented demonstrating the importance of joint and combined exercises.
"Unfortunately this is my last exercise in New Zealand," said Gossen. "I am definitely going to miss the interaction we have with our New Zealand counterparts, but I know that the friendships made here will stay with me even after I leave the Pacific AOR.”