|The US military says it wants to build stronger partnerships with its Asian allies
The merits, or otherwise, of embedding yourself with a military force and seeing their very one-sided view of the world, has been the subject of some debate in recent years.
But against all expectations, I recently found myself gathered around a cage of bunny rabbits with a group of combat-hardened US soldiers, cooing as they petted the cuddly balls of fur. It was all part of a friendship building visit to a local agricultural initiative organised by their Thai counterparts.
Could this be the new face of the US military under the Obama administration?
The message of "change" coming from the White House, certainly seems to be filtering down to the US military, as it is elsewhere in the new administration.
As Hillary Clinton, Obama's new secretary of state, sets out for Asia on her first overseas visit as America's top diplomat, thousands of US servicemen and women are already on military exercises in Thailand, joining forces from four Asian nations, under the dynamic title Cobra Gold.
|The Cobra Gold exercises bring together soldiers from the US and four Asian nations
Their presence, they say, is not to expand their areas of active duty, or because they see a potent military threat in the region, but rather to increase the capabilities of their partners.
"We have learnt many lessons and we're continuing to learn lessons," says General Mixon, the senior commanding US officer in Asia, referring to the current campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"And we know the importance of partnership," he says, pointing to increased interaction with senior military figures from Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Japan.
Sharing the burden
Under exercise on the training grounds in central Thailand, Indonesian troops guarding a convoy of supplies for the World Food Program come under ‘attack’ by insurgents in a scenario designed to teach them not only the best methods of defence, but how to work with civilian agencies who have strict rules about engagement and neutrality.
After the exercise is completed, an overseeing US officer rebukes them mildly for loading their 'dead' and wounded comrades into the back of the WFP truck without asking permission of the UN agency, thus invalidating the neutrality of the vehicle.
The Indonesians appear to be slightly confused about what they've done wrong, but their commanding officer Lieutenant Pratomo admits, "this is very useful for us, in similar situations to ones we expect to find ourselves in".
|Many traditional US allies felt abandoned
by the Bush administration
This strategy of sharing the burden of military duties is however not a new one, says Robert Karniol, a regional military analyst.
He points to the fact that the previous administration under George Bush tried to do the same thing when it found itself over extended in the Middle East.
"Hopefully, and by all indications, the change that comes with the Obama administration, is a Washington that is more sensitive to its friends and allies, and perhaps even its adversaries," he says.
Some of those friendships have, however, become strained in recent years, and many of the US’s traditional allies in Asia felt abandoned by a Bush administration focused so intently on the Middle East.
That perception has intensified with the escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula and a military government in Myanmar that seems ever more determinedly set on holding onto power, regardless of the costs to its people.
Perhaps with those adversaries in mind, the US soldiers are still keen to show the full extent of their military capabilities.
In one carefully managed exercise, a tranquil Thai beach was invaded by amphibious armoured troop carriers as attack helicopters and Harrier jets sweep over the sand.
Nonetheless, North Korea and Myanmar - Asia's rogue nations according to the former Bush administration - have little to fear.
Many of these American soldiers are veterans of the Middle Eastern campaigns, some with more than one active tour of duty under their belts.
And while they remain verbally committed to 'doing what needs to be done', there appears to be a fatigue left by the possibility of going back to war.
It's a sentiment which appears to be backed by the current US diplomatic strategies of collusion rather than confrontation.
"Whenever my unit calls, I'll be there", says Sergeant Stout, with grim determination, as he leads a group of Thai infantrymen out for a live fire exercise.
But one suspects he'd rather spend some time at home.