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Members of the 33rd and 31st Rescue Squadrons from Kadena Air Base, Japan, prepare for a combat search and rescue mission during Exercise Pacific Thunder 18-1 at Osan AB, South Korea, Oct. 23, 2017. This year's exercise is the largest Pacific Thunder hosted at Osan AB with more than 20 U.S. squadrons and nine South Korean air force wings participating. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gwendalyn Smith)

Members of the 33rd and 31st Rescue Squadrons from Kadena Air Base, Japan, prepare for a combat search and rescue mission during Exercise Pacific Thunder 18-1 at Osan AB, South Korea, Oct. 23, 2017. This year’s exercise is the largest Pacific Thunder hosted at Osan AB with more than 20 U.S. squadrons and nine South Korean air force wings participating.(Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Gwendalyn Smith)

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AFNS) — One of the largest joint combat search and rescue exercises in the Pacific region, Pacific Thunder 18-1, kicked into full swing at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Oct. 23, 2017.

With more than 20 U.S. squadrons and nine South Korean air force wings involved, this year’s exercise is the largest to date. Pacific Thunder provides the 25th Fighter Squadron and the 33rd and 31st Rescue Squadrons opportunities to train in simulated combat search and rescue missions all while working alongside their South Korean counterparts.

“Pacific Thunder originally started in 2009 as a one week exercise between the 25th Fighter Squadron and the 33rd Rescue Squadron and has since grown into a (Pacific Air Forces) level exercise,” said Capt. Travis Vayda, 25th FS Pacific Thunder 18-1 coordinator.

Although the annual exercise features a range of units participating, it is still centered on the 25th FS and 33rd RQS.

“Combat search and rescue is one of the most important mission sets we have in the A-10 community because we are really the only fixed wing asset in the Air Force who trains to the CSAR mission,” Vayda said. “We are the close muscle, so essentially we are the body guards of the person on the ground and the helicopters that are rescuing them. Obviously in a CSAR, you don’t want to have another type of shoot down or anything happen.”

During the exercise, the 33rd RQS is able to directly work with A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots from the 25th FS, a conjoined training that both units typically have to simulate.

“The realism of the exercise gives us an opportunity to really see how the 25th FS operates,” said Capt. Dirk Strykowski, 33rd RQS HH-60 Pave Hawk flight lead. “Back in Kadena (Air Base, Japan), we pretend as best we can to know what these guys are going to sound like on the radio, what calls they’re going to make and what kind of information they are going to provide, but being able to come up here and refresh what that’s actually going to be like is probably the biggest take away from the exercise.”

Pararescuemen and Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialists from the 31st RQS provide more realism by acting as isolated personnel.

“The intent of this exercise is to train like you fight, and we are trying to replicate that as best we can,” Strykowski said. “We have a lot of support from our pararescue and SERE. They’re out there on the ground now pretending to be downed pilots. So every step of the way, we are making it as realistic as it can get.”

Through combined CSAR training, Pacific Thunder enhances the combat effectiveness between U.S. and South Korean air forces. Exercises like Pacific Thunder highlight the longstanding military partnership, commitment and enduring friendship between U.S. and South Korean forces, helping to ensure peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, and reaffirms the U.S. commitment to stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

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