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JBLM soldier returns to native Thailand during Cobra Gold 2023

U.S. Army Pfc. Taddanai Rungpetchanan, an information technology specialist of Thai origin assigned to the 51st Expeditionary Signal Battalion March 6, 2023, in Lop Buri, Kingdom of Thailand. Photo credit: Spc. John Stauffer

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Life has a way of taking unique situations and bringing them full circle. This is the case for one U.S. Army soldier whose journey started in Thailand and circled back to where it all began.

U.S. Army Pfc. Taddanai Rungpetchanan, a native of the Kingdom of Thailand and now an information technology specialist with the 51st Expeditionary Signal Battalion, was born in a town not far from where he is currently deployed as part of the annual Cobra Gold Exercise, which runs Feb. 27 to March 10, 2023.

"My school is within walking distance. So, it isn't far from here," said Rungpetchanan, who was able to visit his family while participating in the 42nd iteration of exercise Cobra Gold.

"It feels surreal. I never imagined I would be back here as an American soldier," he said. "I would like to thank the Army for allowing me to be here. I am grateful to travel and see my Grandma."

Rungpetchanan moved to the U.S. at a young age and later joined the U.S. Army when he was trying to figure out his future. The Army provided a path for Rungpetchanan who needed direction in his life.

"The Army is a great opportunity if you don't know what to do with your life. It's a great starter for your life to learn real skills. I learned a lot from the Army," he said.

Rungpetchanan recently graduated from Advanced Individual Training. He is on his first deployment with the Army as part of Exercise Cobra Gold 2023, providing communications technology support to his fellow soldiers.

Many training events during the exercise are conducted alongside Royal Thai service members, making his native language skills invaluable.

"I was born here, and I can translate and speak to (Thai service members) well," he said. "Those guys are amiable... I like it. And I'm so very grateful to be able to impact both communities positively."

As an unofficial cultural ambassador for his native country, Rungpetchanan teaches his fellow soldiers about his culture, customs, and courtesies. His favorite part is showing respect to the Royal Thai Army by standing at the position of attention for their national anthem and saluting them back.

"I used my ability to translate to bring the Royal Thai Army and the U.S. together to break down walls between our different cultures," he said.

Rungpetchanan believes in bringing the culture of his native and adopted countries together in trust and friendship.

"My favorite part about sharing (my) culture is for everybody to understand each other because when we don't ... people make negative assumptions about each other, which causes conflict and distrust," he said.

Cobra Gold, now in its 42nd year, is a Thai-U.S. co-sponsored training event that builds on the long-standing friendship between the two allied nations and brings together a robust multinational force to promote regional peace and security in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

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