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Extended Absence: More than 70 airmen and approximately six F-16s from the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke AFB, Ariz., are in the Philippines through the end of the month to take part in Exercise Balikatan '09. The bilateral training event kicked off yesterday in Luzon province with members of the armed forces of the Philippines. Balikatan ‘09 marks the inaugural participation of F-16s, and the first time in 16 years that USAF fighters are operating out of the Philippines. "We are extremely proud to participate in this exercise," said Brig. Gen. Kurt Neubauer, 56th FW commander, in a Luke release. He added, "The United States and the Republic of the Philippines are close friends and have a long history of working together." Along with the 56th FW contingent, US Marine Corps and Navy personnel are involved in the exercise, which has three simultaneous legs: a cross training and field exercise; a scenario-based staff exercise to practice joint force management at the headquarters level; and humanitarian and civic assistance activities.