NEWS | July 27, 2021

Aviation exchange marks return of in-person SPP engagement

By Joseph Siemandel, Washington National Guard

CAMP MURRAY, Wash. – The Washington National Guard welcomed six members of the Royal Thai Army Aviation Division back to Washington State to conduct a week-long aviation subject matter exchange at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Fairchild Air Force Base. The focus of the exchange was aviation operations, maintenance and support to domestic response operations.

Since the COVID quarantine began early last year, all State Partnership Program engagements with Thailand and Malaysia have been conducted via virtual platforms. This exchange is the first in-person since the pandemic started.

“We’re excited to begin in-person exchanges with our partners again. We learned to operate on virtual platforms during quarantine, which will continue to be valuable as we advance. Still, there is no substitute for face-to-face communication,” said Major Keith Kosik, SPP Director.

Next year the Washington National Guard and the Kingdom of Thailand will celebrate 20 years of friendship and collaboration within the State Partnership Program. The program is designed to strengthen relationships, share best practices and build capacity. The aviation subject matter expert exchange has been one of the longest standing continual engagements within the program.

During the week-long exchange, the Thai soldiers traveled across the state to learn about the LH-72a “Lakota” helicopters located at the Army Aviation Sustainment Facility #2 at Fairchild Air Force Base. The group learned about the mission of the Lakota and how to maintain the platform. On their way back from Fairchild, the group made a stop in Lincoln County to learn how the Guard aviation crews are supporting the wildfire-fighting mission.

“The Royal Thai Army uses their aviation assets to support domestic response operations – just as we do. To give them a close look at our use of aviation to support a real-world disaster response mission was invaluable,” said Kosik.

During the rest of the engagement, Thai aviators joined their Washington counterparts in the flight simulator on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, refining flight skills in the UH-60 “Black Hawk” and CH-47 “Chinook.” In addition, Thai aviation maintainers were able to exchange ideas and learn maintenance best practices from their counterparts in the WA NG.

“The Black Hawk simulator was similar to what we have in Thailand, but the Chinook simulator was very different than anything I have done. This was an all-new experience,” said Maj. Wichian Korkan, Royal Thai Army.

As international travel begins to return, the Washington National Guard’s State Partnership Program will conduct more in-person engagements. Next month, members of the Royal Malaysian Air Force will participate in a three-week meeting with the Washington Air National Guard members.