Tiger, tiger burning bright: Air National Guard service links U.S. Cope Tiger Airmen with Royal Thai, Singapore brethren

  • Published
  • By 2Lt. Michael Harrington
  • Multilateral Exercise Cope Tiger 2014
The Big Easy expression "Laissez les bon temps rouler (Let the good times roll)" works just fine with fighter jets rolling down a steaming Thai runway and the 159th Fighter Wing's Bayou Militia soaring above jungles halfway around the globe. The long-term relationships of an Air National Guard unit--here the fathers and sons, siblings and born-and-raised citizen Airmen of Louisiana--especially one with the flavor and bonds of a "NOLA" family, are paying dividends with Thai and Singapore counterparts serving their countries in a remarkably similar fashion.

The three countries began a second week of flying and fixing jets Monday for Cope Tiger 2014, an annual exercise that brings the U.S. Air Force together with the Royal Thai and Republic of Singapore Air Forces in Thailand, many of whom attend the exercise after being likewise "called up" to active duty themselves.

"A lot of our Airmen are traditional guardsmen their entire careers, sometimes here in the same NOLA Guard unit," said Air Force Col. Shawn Coco, 159 FW vice wing commander. "This kind of dramatic departure from going to work every day at the same place down the road, it's exceptionally valuable for a Guard unit to be able to do that."

The Air National Guard's presence in Nakhon Ratchasima--or "Korat," a short form of its pronunciation in Thai--might seem like a dramatic departure from the norm, yet for Coco and his unit, the chance to pack up from Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans is a great opportunity for the Guard to flex its logistical muscles, to go and do its job halfway around the world.

Common service binds the U.S., RTAF and RSAF airmen in unexpected ways. Many of the Americans', Thai and Singapore counterparts are guardsmen themselves. Many Singapore airmen in Cope Tiger serve as reservists on a voluntary extended reserve scheme, or "Rovers," according to an RSAF press release. Some Thai airmen rival their U.S. Cope Tiger crew chiefs counterparts with upwards of two decades of military service. One RSAF aeromedical technician is a high school economics teacher, blending well with U.S. Airmen who are doctors, police officers and commercial pilots during their average weeks in New Orleans.

The longevity of Guard service makes for unique encounters in Thailand's countryside. Two Thai maintenance officers on the flight line are brothers serving in distant parts of the country brought to Korat for Cope Tiger. Next door, Senior Airman Jason Ripp, crew chief with 159 Air Maintenance Squadron, serves in the same job and unit his father did. The Guard family is not a novel concept to any of the air forces involved here.

"We have half a dozen F-15 Guard patches and all of them are represented here alongside the New Orleans Airmen," said Coco. "The dynamics of a Guard unit are different, and this is how we share in supporting the mission elsewhere in the world."

This year's exercise involves 800 service members from Thailand, Singapore and the United States. Nearly 160 U.S. Airmen are participating in the event, which concludes Friday.

"The 159th FW stepped up to this tasking and is helping provide peace and stability to the region," said U.S. Air Force exercise director, Col. John "Zoomba" Traettino from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. "They performed exceptionally well as the Expeditionary 122nd Fighter Squadron within the 13th Air Expeditionary Wing. They worked very well with our Thai and Singaporean coalition partners in every phase, leading the way in many areas."