By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
Northern Australia’s climate can range from desert heat to tropical humidity, and coupled with unpredictable terrain, it is a great place for U.S. troops to practice the skills they need for long-range, high-tempo and short-notice missions.
Exercise Talisman Sabre 2015 is currently underway in Australia, with more than 33,000 U.S. and Aussie troops taking part in biennial land, sea and air training to improve and illustrate the ability of the two nations’ militaries to work together. The exercise, sponsored by U.S. Pacific Command and the Australian Defence Force, helps both countries plan and execute contingency responses, from combat missions to humanitarian assistance.
One of the biggest events this year was a strategic air drop in which the Australians flew two of their aircraft to Alaska, where they were joined by five U.S. aircraft for a 17-hour flight back to central Queensland to drop U.S. paratroopers onto an airfield.
There are three main areas of Australia being used for the exercise: Darwin in the rugged Northern Territory, Rockhampton in central Queensland and nearby Shoalwater Bay, a prime Australian Defence Force training area. All three have difficult climates and terrains, which are good for helping troops prepare for the unexpected. For instance, it might be winter right now in Australia, but it won’t feel like it in Darwin, where the temperatures currently range from 66-86 degrees Fahrenheit.
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Darwin is the biggest of the three towns and the most well-known (the nearby Kakadu National Park is where “Crocodile Dundee” was filmed). It’s on the Timor Sea and is home to about 100,000 people, including the largest population of indigenous Australians, the Larrakia. The port town is one of the country’s gateways to Asia, with Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines directly to the northwest.
- Darwin is named after Charles Darwin, the British naturalist who is famous for his theory of natural selection.
- The town was a major military base for allied troops in the Pacific during World War II. It was attacked twice on Feb. 19, 1942, by the same fleet that bombed Pearl Harbor.
- American troops will certainly find the wildlife to be … different. For instance, you won’t find rainbow bee-eaters, channel-billed cuckoos, wallabies, golden bandicoots or bilbies in the U.S. Soldiers also have the chance to encounter a range of deadly animals, from the infamous king brown, western brown, taipan and death adder snakes to the saltwater crocodile.
- Darwin is also home to the annual Beer Can Regatta, where participants build boats out of beer or soda cans and float them using only those items.
Rockhampton, while located in the more populous state of Queensland, is actually much smaller than Darwin, with a population of less than 60,000. It’s about 25 miles inland from the Pacific, so it gets no coastal breezes and can be sweltering in the summer (again, good thing it’s winter now).
- American personnel were stationed there during World War II. Queensland served as an important base for U.S. forces in the Pacific Theater.
- With more than 2.5 million cattle within a 250 kilometer radius, it’s the beef capital of Australia!
- There is a genuine working cattle property nearby that specializes in horseback riding and outback activities like campfire dining, bush walking and waterhole swimming. There’s also the coast, where you can find great access to the southern end of the famed Great Barrier Reef.
Not too far from Rockhampton is Shoalwater Bay, one of Australia’s prime defense force training areas. It encompasses about 1,750 square miles, which means there’s plenty of room to carry out military exercises.
- The area was first taken over by the Australian military in the mid-1960s and was a major preparation area for troops in the Vietnam War.
- Part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Shoalwater Bay is one of the country’s most important dugong habitats. What’s a dugong, you ask? Well, it’s related to an elephant and looks like a manatee, except it’s distinguished by its forked, whale-like tail.
The Talisman Sabre exercises last through the end of this week. After that, U.S. and Australian troops will work together on the Pacific Partnership exercise, which is the biggest humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
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