Photo Information

U.S. Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron (MWSS) 371, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and Philippine Sailors run a fuel line after refueling a KC-130J Super Hercules with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport (VMGR) 352, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd MAW, during forward arming and refueling point operations at Laoag International Airport, Laoag, Philippines, June 15, 2024. The FARP supported aircraft with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport (VMGR) 352, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd MAW, and 1st Special Operations Squadron during Marine Aviation Support Activity 24. MASA is an annual Philippine-U.S. military exercise focused on mutual defense, strengthening relationships, and rehearsing emerging aviation concepts. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Nikolas Mascroft)

Photo by Cpl. Nikolas Mascroft

Invaluable Integration | Philippine native, U.S. Marines build cultural bridges to support MASA 24

22 Jun 2024 | 1stLt Madison Walls 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

Demonstrating the strong people-to-people ties that are the bedrock of the U.S.-Philippine relationship, U.S. Marines with Filipino heritage from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing played a crucial role in their unit’s bilateral operations while forward deployed to various locations in the Philippines. These Marines ensured that 3rd MAW could conduct flight operations alongside their Philippine counterparts by enhancing U.S.-Philippine communication despite language barriers, directly enabling Marine Aviation Support Activity 24 from June 3rd to June 21st, 2024.

MASA is an annual bilateral exercise between the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) and the United States Marine Corps (USMC). MASA aims to enhance capabilities, interoperability, and coordination by focusing on aviation-supported operations involving assets from across the combined-joint force including USMC, United States Air Force (USAF), United States Army (USA), PMC, Philippine Air Force (PAF), and the Naval Air Wing of the Philippine Navy.

The supporting USMC aviation units of MASA 24 included Marine Wing Support Squadron (MWSS) 371, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 352, Marine Air Control Group 38, and Marine Aircraft Group 13, all from 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, the Marine Corps’ largest air wing, making up the Aviation Combat Element of I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).

Each unit, spread across the Philippine archipelago at key locations, including Clark Air Base; Fort Bonifacio, Manila; Cesar Basa Air Base; and El Nido, possessed more than just modern aircraft or weaponry. Located within each unit were multiple U.S. Marines of Philippine descent, providing invaluable cultural integration of each 3rd MAW unit with their Philippine counterparts.

The number of U.S. ACE Marines totaled more than 590, with 17 being of Filipino descent. While less than three percent of the total force may seem insignificant, these Marines had an immeasurable impact on the aviation operations of MASA 24.

A significant demonstration of this integration occurred on Fort Bonifacio during the explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) defense Subject Matter Expert Exchanges (SMEE), where Lance Cpl. Sophiamyka Gonzales proved crucial for enhancing communication between the Philippine and U.S. armed forces as a cultural liaison. Her cultural fluency facilitated a deeper understanding of each side's objectives, ensuring comprehensive exchanges and fostering a collaborative environment despite any linguistic or cultural nuances.

Gonzales was led by Philippine native, U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Angelo Villaseran, who in addition to his roles as a motor transport operations chief and logistics chief with MWSS 371, was also assigned as cultural liaison to work alongside Philippine Air Force 1st Lt. Wilmark Miral, an operations and intelligence officer with the 600th Air Base Group at Clark Air Base. During high-stakes operations, Miral and Villaseran were able to rapidly and effectively adapt to any challenge throughout the exercise due to their expansive knowledge of their own procedures as well as the cultural and technical understanding of each other’s work.

“Being able to use my knowledge and personal experience to help my unit makes me feel like I am making a positive impact on the unit's mission,” Villaseran said. “Changes happen constantly, and thinking fast and demonstrating poise is crucial. My personal experience gives me more awareness and helps me be more deliberate.”

The two service members’ ability to work seamlessly together supported day-to-day aviation support operations as well as the MASA 24 culminating event, a bilateral littoral live-fire exercise (LLFX) off the coast of Zambales. The LLFX showcased U.S. and Philippine integrated command and control capabilities in a territorial defense scenario featuring a coordinated bilateral surface and maritime strike with Philippine and U.S. generals as the final approving authorities for the event.

This integration was made possible by Marines from across both services with active efforts to collaborate with one another while understanding cultural nuances and breaking language barriers to ensure common understanding and ultimately, mission success.

“Having foreign armed forces that can speak Tagalog has been helpful in coordinating and communicating things with us; there are many things that we must understand in detail to make sure we can accommodate other military aboard Clark Air Base,” Miral said. “Having a Tagalog speaker makes the process better for both parties.”

The ability of Philippine-native U.S. Marines to bridge cultural nuances and communicate effectively with Philippine service members and civilian contractors proved instrumental in fostering mutual respect and camaraderie between the two Allied nations throughout MASA 24.

“We always feel delighted when someone knows our culture because it is very important to us,” Miral said.

U.S. Marines’ familiarity with Filipino traditions fostered goodwill and cooperation that transcended military alliances and embodied a shared commitment to protect and serve. This desire to strengthen relationships with their counterparts guides the I MEF ACE as it continues to support Marine Air-Ground Task Force operations throughout the Indo-Pacific.

"I am immensely proud of our Marines of Philippine descent,” said Col. Roy Nicka, the commanding officer of MAG-13. “Their presence enhanced our operational capabilities and strengthened the bond between our forces.”

As Marine Corps aviation operations in the Indo-Pacific continue to evolve, the contributions of Philippine-native U.S. Marines at MASA 24 and other combined-joint operations continue to forge new pathways for cooperation and innovation. Each exercise builds on the last, guiding toward a future of continued collaboration, resilience, and shared purpose, defending and supporting a free and open Indo-Pacific.

“These Marines embody the invaluable integration that defines MAG-13's mission in the Indo-Pacific, bridging cultures and building upon our collective strength across every MOS and rank,” Nicka said. “From our lance corporals to our senior officers, MAG-13 was completely integrated with our Allies, ensuring every level of mission success during MASA.”

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