16-Sep-2021 Source: Washington National Guard
Washington’s State Partnership Program kicked off another subject matter expert exchange by hosting a 10-member delegation of pilots and helicopter maintenance technicians from the Royal Thai Army. The cohort spent three weeks exchanging knowledge and expertise with their counterparts in the 96th Aviation Troop Command at the flight facility on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Aug. 23 through Sept. 11, 2021.
The SPP is a Dept. of Defense program that is administered by the National Guard Bureau. The program pairs the National Guard of a state or territory with the partner nation’s military or other government entities. Washington has been partnered with the Kingdom of Thailand since 2002. The program helps strengthen the two nation’s strategic objectives in defense, government, economic and social domains.
The SMEE covered a wide variety of topics including an introduction to the digital maintenance software, Instrument and Visual Flight Rules simulation training, hoist operations and water bucket operations.
The goals of the exchange were to learn from each other on a wide range of domestic flight operations. Much like Washington’s, aviators in the Royal Thai Army fly in response to wildfires, search and rescue missions as well as in support of law enforcement.
As with any gathering that brings people together from different countries and cultures, this three-week exchange was met with language and communication barriers. Thanks to the skilled language abilities of Staff Sgt. Cameron Hartley, a human intelligence collector with Alpha Company, 341st Military Intelligence Battalion, that communications barrier was torn down.
Hartley has been speaking Thai for 16 years and volunteered his services when he heard about the mission.
“Every time there’s a Thai delegation that visits or if there is an exercise taking place in Thailand, I try to volunteer for it,” said Hartley. “I just love the language, the people, the culture. It also gives me a chance to practice.”
His interpretation skills began a bit rusty but as time went on and the Thai delegation became more and more comfortable with him being around, they began to help him and correct some of his grammar.
“Thai’s are incredibly polite and they don’t like to make people feel embarrassed, but the fact that they corrected me means that they were confident enough around me that they’re not going to offend me – which ended up being incredibly helpful,” said Hartley.
Another aspect of the State Partnership Program that doesn’t get a lot of exposure is the cultural experiences that are arranged. Aside from military exchanges, the two nations love to show off what makes their way of life unique. It provides them a chance to peer into the life of their counterparts and get to know each other on another level.
For a majority of the Thai aviators this is their first time visiting the United States. The trip coincided with a long Labor Day weekend. While they were here, the Guard soldiers made sure they got to experience a myriad of outdoor activities – the way only Washington can provide.
“We took them to Mt. Rainier on a five-mile hike,” said Hartley. “And they got to see and experience snow for the first time – none of them had seen snow before.”
The U.S. soldiers made sure their trip was memorable. Among their other cultural experiences were the Boeing Museum of Flight, downtown Seattle as well as a little taste of home at a Thai temple community event in Lacey, Washington.
Despite all the training and cooperation the Thai aviator’s experienced, for some it just wasn’t enough. In addition to observing aircraft maintenance, some want to experience the job.
“If we get to do this again, I would like to have a little more hands-on experience,” said Master Sgt. Sakchai Teeramoon, a UH-72 Lakota helicopter mechanic. “I would like to work directly with my U.S. counterpart on a project.”