JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska (AFNS) – August 25, 2015 — A 16-foot wooden table stretches between aircrew lockers and cabinets. A red toolbox sits at one end of the table. Helmets, oxygen masks and parachutes are within sight. The room is temporarily housing members with 374th Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment for the duration of Red Flag-Alaska. It all looks very similar to the team’s setup back at their home station, until a Royal Thai air force pilot walks past.
The AFE members happened to set up in the most trafficked area at the RF-A building at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. They quickly realized the uniqueness of their location with every flight suit that passed by and the variety of flags displayed on each shoulder.
Road construction in front of the building forced the front door to close and led to the back door becoming the primary entrance and exit of the building. The AFE room sat between the new entrance and mission planning cells for every participating nation.
“Everyone has to walk through when they arrive, when they go to lunch, when they take a break, when they go home, when they have to run out for a second and come back in, so we constantly see people coming through here,” said Senior Airman Kenny Batallas, a 374th Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment journeyman.
Red Flag-Alaska 15-3 played host to a number of countries: the United Kingdom, Thailand, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Korea and the United States. Air force units from each nation spent 10 days training together during this iteration of the exercise. The variety of personnel planning operations in and out of the main building allowed the AFE members a chance to meet a lot of new faces.
“It has been a great experience working with so many other countries,” Batalles said. “It has been very different, but very rewarding, the chance to get to interact with all those countries and get familiar with them.”
Batalles said he had the opportunity to learn about different jobs, ranks and uniforms while interacting with the other nations. He made a particularly influential exchange with a Royal Australian air force member.
“I was going through the building getting a Red Flag-Alaska badge and I saw (AFE Airmen) doing maintenance on one of their helmets,” said RAAF Leading Aircraftsman Mark Dunn, a 42 Wing, 2 Squadron aeronautical life support fitter. ” … So I talked to them and asked what they were working on and what aircraft they supported.”
Batalles and Dunn compared equipment differences and similarities, tried on each other’s gear and spent time talking about each other’s cultures.
“We impact the same things and our job exists for the same reason,” Batalles said. “It felt good to talk to someone who does the same thing as you, supports the same thing as you.”
Batalles had dozens of interactions with multinational service members throughout RF-A, to include sharing meals with members of the Royal Thai air force. Batalles’ coworker, Airman 1st Class Jonathon Archer, an AFE apprentice, who happened to be Thai, helped Batallas with some of the language.
“We saw the Royal Thai air force members and we started exchanging with them, saying ‘hi’ and ‘bye’,” Batalles said.
Members of the RTAF noticed, and in appreciation offered lunch to Batalles and Archer. The RTAF brought their own chef, ingredients, cooking utensils and dishes. An entire kitchen was set up near a hangar on the side of the flightline.
“I had Thai food in Alaska, authentic too, who would have thought?” Batallas said with a smile and a shrug. “It was a good experience.”
Batalles said his experience in the Air Force, especially on temporary deployments and exercises, has helped him gain life experience and become a more culturally aware individual.
“I feel like as time progresses you grow as a technician, as an Airman, and as a person and it helps you out in the future,” Batalles said. “Having those cultural etiquettes, having that knowledge of basic customs and courtesies is important. It helped you meet people, make friends and increases bilateral relationships.”