Marines Guzzle Snake Blood Once Again in Gnarliest Training Exercise

A U.S. Marine drinks the blood of a king cobra as part of jungle survival training during exercise Cobra Gold at Ban Chan Krem, Feb. 14, 2019, in Chanta Buri, Kingdom of Thailand. (Matthew J. Bragg/Marine Corps)
A U.S. Marine drinks the blood of a king cobra as part of jungle survival training during exercise Cobra Gold at Ban Chan Krem, Feb. 14, 2019, in Chanta Buri, Kingdom of Thailand. (Matthew J. Bragg/Marine Corps)

Most joint military exercises have seemingly arbitrary names with little to do with the actual training: think Foal Eagle or Juniper Falcon. Not so with the annual joint Thai-Marine Corps exercise Cobra Gold, in which cobras are an undisputed star of the show -- and a rather stomach-churning source of nourishment.

Cobra Gold 2019 is now ongoing on land and in the waters off Thailand. Taking place for the 38th year, it’s one of the world’s largest multinational training exercises, and it has only become more significant as global focus has shifted to the Indo-Pacific. Participants this year come from Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore and Japan as well as the United States and Thailand -- and 29 countries in all will be involved through participation or an an observer capacity.

The Associated Press reported that the exercise, running through Feb. 22, will include training in disaster relief, humanitarian assistance and enhancing maritime security. News releases and military imagery show amphibious beach assaults, underwater demolitions and coordinated exercises with fighter aircraft.

But never fear; U.S. and Royal Thai Marines still found plenty of time to chug warm cobra blood, straight from the snake, in the legendary annual jungle survival training.

Two U.S. Marines feel the beating heart of a dead king cobra as part of jungle survival training during exercise Cobra Gold at Ban Chan Krem, Feb. 14, 2019, in Chanta Buri, Kingdom of Thailand. (Matthew J. Bragg/Marine Corps)
Two U.S. Marines feel the beating heart of a dead king cobra as part of jungle survival training during exercise Cobra Gold at Ban Chan Krem, Feb. 14, 2019, in Chanta Buri, Kingdom of Thailand. (Matthew J. Bragg/Marine Corps)

There’s something that just seems right about the U.S. military branch that prides itself on being the toughest relishing the chance to feast on high-protein cobra blood, scorpions, and other jungle resources. But photos indicate the Marines are also clearly impressed by their Royal Thai Marine Instructors, who wrangle the creatures with ease and mastery.

U.S. Marines watch as Royal Thai Marine instructor shows off a snake during Cobra Gold 19 at Ban Chan Krem, Kingdom of Thailand, Feb. 14, 2019. (Mary Calkin/U.S. Army)
U.S. Marines watch as Royal Thai Marine instructor shows off a snake during Cobra Gold 19 at Ban Chan Krem, Kingdom of Thailand, Feb. 14, 2019. (Mary Calkin/U.S. Army)

Marines also ate scorpions, which, like many arachnids, are a valuable source of protein. While alive, scorpions can pack a powerful punch of poison; but once dead, the poison becomes inert and the creatures can be consumed without danger.

Marines with Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, eat live scorpions during jungle survival training, Exercise Cobra Gold 19, Camp Ban Chan Khrem, Khao Khitchakut District, Thailand, Feb. 15, 2019. (Tanner Lambert/Marine Corps)
Marines with Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, eat live scorpions during jungle survival training, Exercise Cobra Gold 19, Camp Ban Chan Khrem, Khao Khitchakut District, Thailand, Feb. 15, 2019. (Tanner Lambert/Marine Corps)

Jungle survival training wasn’t entirely about eating things that might scare you if you encountered them in the wild. Released photos also show the Marines enjoying jungle delicacies like starfruit and sugarcane, handfed to them by their Thai instructors.

A U.S. Marine takes a bite of star fruit as part of jungle survival training during exercise Cobra Gold at Ban Chan Krem, Feb. 14, 2019, in Chanta Buri, Kingdom of Thailand. (Matthew J. Bragg/Marine Corps)
A U.S. Marine takes a bite of star fruit as part of jungle survival training during exercise Cobra Gold at Ban Chan Krem, Feb. 14, 2019, in Chanta Buri, Kingdom of Thailand. (Matthew J. Bragg/Marine Corps)

Marines also learned the basics of building a fire, and they build a makeshift bamboo grill, where they roasted birds and other animals they captured in the jungle. No doubt cooked meat tastes pretty good after you’ve been getting by on cobra blood for awhile.

A Royal Thai Marine cooks various animals over a fire pit as part of jungle survival training during exercise Cobra Gold at Ban Chan Krem, Feb. 14, 2019, in Chanta Buri, Kingdom of Thailand. (Matthew J. Bragg/Marine Corps)
A Royal Thai Marine cooks various animals over a fire pit as part of jungle survival training during exercise Cobra Gold at Ban Chan Krem, Feb. 14, 2019, in Chanta Buri, Kingdom of Thailand. (Matthew J. Bragg/Marine Corps)

And as wild and dramatic as the photos out of these training sessions are, it gives Marines a rare and important opportunity to train in a jungle environment. Many Marine Corps stateside training environments are more similar to the deserts to which they have deployed for the last 17 years. But as the world changes and new geopolitical threats emerge, the next mission could be very different. In the meantime, expect Marines to continue putting their game faces on and opening up for a shot of snake blood.

A monocled cobra flares its hood during jungle survival training, Exercise Cobra Gold 19, Camp Ban Chan Khrem, Khao Khitchakut District, Thailand, Feb. 15, 2019. (Tanner Lambert/Marine Corps)
A monocled cobra flares its hood during jungle survival training, Exercise Cobra Gold 19, Camp Ban Chan Khrem, Khao Khitchakut District, Thailand, Feb. 15, 2019. (Tanner Lambert/Marine Corps)

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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