Ambassador Ray participates in Angel Thunder 13

  • Published
  • By Maj. Sarah Schwennesen
  • 12th Air Force (AIR FORCES SOUTHERN) Public Affairs
Here for his third Angel Thunder, former Ambassador Charles Ray shared his decades of experience in the Department of State Embassy environment with exercise participants focused on improving interagency coordination.

Angel Thunder 13 involved more interagency participation than any previous Angel Thunder exercise, involving Homeland Security Investigations, State Department, U.S. National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service participants.

"This time there is more interagency interest due to the realization that the government needs to implement Annex 1 to the National Security Policy Directive 12, specifically relating to personnel recovery and hostage taking," said Ray. "I applaud the exercise planners' vision in pushing exercise scenarios toward operations under Chief of Mission Authority (where the Ambassador in a country is in command of military operations), because these will be environments where the military is generally not accustomed to. We all need to learn to operate in an international environment where concepts of national sovereignty and other limitations will impact how the Department of Defense will work with interagency partners to get the job done."

Due to sequestration, many other federal agencies that planned on participating in Angel Thunder were unable to do so. However, extensive guidance and realism was injected into the exercise by Ray. He portrayed the white cell chief of mission in his advisory role to exercise players.

"I tried to explain to players how the command authority environment differs between embassies because no two are exactly alike and that puts a degree of uncertainty in military operations. My approach is that you have to figure out a way to get Mars and Venus into the same orbit, and it is a lot harder than you think to get people with completely different cultural views to work together."

In 2006, Ray was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Prisoners of War/Mission Personnel Affairs and Director of the Defense Prisoner of War Mission Personnel Office. In that job, his office was responsible for the drafting of Annex 1 to NSPD 12, developing the formalized policy for personnel recovery which required interagency cooperation and planning.

"If we leverage all the capability across the interagency spectrum and our international partners, we can rescue everyone, every time, Ray said. "The idea is to get people thinking outside the box to be successful in situations, where they need to cooperate with other agencies."

Ray reflected on the cooperation exercised in Angel Thunder 13 and said it was depicted most clearly at the Playas Training and Research Center, N.M.

"A Chinook piloted by the Singaporean Royal Air Force disgorged Colombian, Chilean and Brazilian Air Forces who on the ground hooked up with American forces to go into a village and save foreigners," he said.

Ray's career began in the U.S. Army, where he served for 20 years in Vietnam, Germany, Okinawa and South Korea. After he retired, he went to work for the DoS and served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone. In 1998, he became the first U.S. Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He served as ambassador to Cambodia under President George W. Bush, and later served as ambassador to Zimbabwe under President Barack Obama until September 2012, when he retired from public service.

In all, 3,017 joint, total force, coalition and interagency partners were trained and 109 aircraft participated in Angel Thunder 13. Exercise participants logged more than 1,749 flight hours in 30 exercise scenarios in which approximately 295 people were saved.

Despite the massive size of the exercise, the planners ensured that the budget was as efficient as possible, staying within $1.75 million, said Brett Hartnett, Angel Thunder exercise director and technical manager.