25th ID ‘survives’ Australian outback

| October 31, 2014 | 0 Comments
Photos by Cpl. Jake Sims, Australian Army (From left) 2nd Lt. Daniel Strickland,  Peoples Liberation Army Sgt. Wu Zhen Hua and Australian Army Cpl. Andrew Gao make fire using traditional techniques in Australia’s remote Northern Territory outback as part of Exercise Kowari 2014.   *** Local Caption *** Defence cooperation between Australia, China and the United States is being highlighted during Exercise Kowari 2014, now underway in the Northern Territory.   The first environmental survival training exercise between the three countries is based at Larrakeyah Barracks, Darwin, with field training and survival tests in remote inland and coastal areas.   Ten soldiers from the Australian Army, 10 from the People‚Äôs Liberation Army of China, five from the United States Army and five from the United States Marine Corps are taking part in Exercise Kowari. Another 100 military personnel are providing further support in roles including liaison and logistics.   The Australian Army‚Äôs 2nd Division is coordinating Exercise Kowari, with the North-West Mobile Force (NORFORCE) responsible for conducting the survival training phase.


(From left) 2nd Lt. Daniel Strickland, Peoples Liberation Army Sgt. Wu Zhen Hua and Australian Army Cpl. Andrew Gao make fire using traditional techniques in Australia’s remote Northern Territory outback as part of Exercise Kowari 2014.

Staff Sgt. Sean Everette
25th Infantry Division Public Affairs
Photos by Australian Army Cpl. Jake Sims

NORTHWEST TERRITORY, Australia — The outback in Australia’s Northwest Territory is home to crocodiles, snakes and all kinds of unusual animals.

However, for three weeks in October, it was also home to a trilateral team of Soldiers from the United States, Australia and China taking part in Exercise Kowari 2014, the inaugural environmental survival training exercise that brought the three countries together for the first time in an effort to enhance security in the Pacific.

“The exercise demonstrates the willingness of Australia, China and the United States to work together in practical ways,” said Senator David Johnston, the Australian Minister for Defence.

The core of what happened in the outback had little to do with the political dynamic between the three countries. The three weeks of Exercise Kowari, Oct. 7-25, were about learning how to survive as much as they were about making connections.

Five 25th Infantry Division Soldiers joined five Marines, 10 Australian Army soldiers and 10 Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers as the Australian 2nd Division’s North West Mobile Force taught them what it takes to live in the bush.

The exercise was divided into three phases.

The first was a team-building phase where the participants met and got used to working with one another.

Australian Warrant Officer Class 2 David Sudholz (right) from the North West Mobile Force leads personnel from Australia, China and the United States to their camp shortly after their arrival in the remote territory.

Australian Warrant Officer Class 2 David Sudholz (right) from the North West Mobile Force leads personnel from Australia, China and the United States to their camp shortly after their arrival in the remote territory.

The second phase moved everyone out to the bush and left modern life behind. They learned many skills, including how to make tools, build shelters, purify water and feed themselves, as well as tell time by the position of the sun and navigate the land using the stars at night and the sun during the day.

Phase three, the survival phase, divided them into two 15-person teams, dropped off in a remote area of the outback, and left to fend for themselves.

“You were down to a bare minimum,” said 1st Lt. Chris Jones, B Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th ID. “Each person had 10 meters of fishing line, two hooks, a knife, a multitool, and a water bottle or canteen, and that was it.”

They did have a radio in case of a medical emergency, and each team had a shooter assigned to it.

“We weren’t allowed to go near the water without a shooter,” said 1st Lt. Jordan Ritter, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 25th ID. “There were 5-meter crocodiles and some 6-meter crocodiles — crocodiles that will literally swallow you whole. A 3-meter crocodile will attack a person and rip off an arm or a leg. A 4-meter crocodile will eat a person. A 5-meter crocodile will swallow you whole and still look for more food.”

The survival phase was divided into two parts: an inland phase and a coastal phase. The inland location was first.

“The most challenging thing in the bush was probably food,” Jones said. “We were able to make fire pretty easily there. We were right on a fresh water stream, so we had our shelter, we had fire, we had water.”

Ritter said his main job during the survival phase was fishing, but he has some success at hunting at the inland location.

“That’s where I caught two kite hawks using fishing line and fishing hooks as a snare,” said Ritter. “I put them in the trees and used part of the fish that I’d caught (from the stream). They’d swoop down to get the fish and get stuck with the hooks. I’d come through and dispatch them pretty quickly. Then we’d cook them up and eat them.”

On day four, they were “rescued” from their inland location, only to have their helicopter “crash” in a coastal location. Here, survival was still the focus, but the methods were a little different.

“The coastal area was a little bit harder but the fishing was easier,” Ritter said. “Just outside of our fishing lines, there were crocodiles lined up like cars at a car show trying to take fish from us. There were some big boys out there. Thankfully, we had barriers made, so a crocodile couldn’t run up and just grab you and go back in the water.”

Jones added, “In the coastal phase, it was the heat. There was a small amount of shade, and the sun was extremely hot over there. The humidity was pretty bad too. And we were up against a brackish river, so we had to desalinate water. We had to be very smart on balancing the work-to-rest ratio to make sure we were accomplishing the work that needed to get done and also not over exerting ourselves and sweating out all of our water.”

Once they were finally “rescued” and had a chance to look back on their experience, both Ritter and Jones found it to be overwhelmingly positive.

“Overall, the whole exercise was a great experience,” said Ritter. “I loved going down there. I loved working with the other soldiers.

“Working with the Australians, working with the Chinese, you just kind of realize everybody is the same across the board,” Ritter continued. “No one is different regardless of race or gender or where you come from. When you’re out there surviving, everybody is part of the same team. You have to meet your basic needs and that’s what it’s really all about.”

Sgt. 1st Class Axel Nieves (left) and PLA Lt. Yang Zhong Hao haul wood to use in a signal fire. The three different army cultures cooperated for survival in the bush for the first time.

Sgt. 1st Class Axel Nieves (left) and PLA Lt. Yang Zhong Hao haul wood to use in a signal fire. The three different army cultures cooperated for survival in the bush for the first time.

“Once you break through the political ideology, the Chinese soldier is no different than the American Soldier,” Jones said. “This was that ice breaker moment (between the U.S. and China). It was like, ‘This is the U.S. Army. This is the Australian Army. This is the Chinese Army. Nice to meet you.’”

“This exercise wasn’t about me,” said Ritter. “It was about our nations talking to each other for the first time, and Australia facilitating that. This exercise had huge political implications, but, at the same time, it had huge implications for 30 soldiers who are working at the individual level and the knowledge gained from that.”

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Category: Deployed Forces, News, Training

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