TUCSON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT AIR GUARD STATION, Ariz. - America's
stars and stripes and Arizona's lone copper star always wave proudly
at the Arizona Air National Guard's 162nd Wing.
But it's the
adjacent flags of coalition-partners - from the pacific
island-nations of Far East Asia, to the NATO countries of the old
Europe and new ones in the Middle-East - that remind Guard Airmen
the global reach of their unit.
"The strategic value of the
162nd Wing's International Training Program cannot be overstated,"
said Col. Phil Purcell, wing commander for the largest training unit
in the Air Guard. "Building Partnership Capacity is a priority for
the U.S. - not only to increase partner capabilities abroad, but to
build long-term relationships."
And it's the F-16 Fighting
Falcon that symbolizes security cooperation with the more than 40
countries that have sent their pilots to the southern Arizona
April 8, 2015 - Five Arizona Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcons soar over the Arizona desert during a training mission. Guardsmen based at the Tucson International Airport carry out a full-time mission to train U.S. and partner-nation fighter pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo
by Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)
"With the F-16 being such a common platform across our
allies and partners, the superior training provided by the
Arizona National Guard is a key enabler for that vision, and
overall national interests," Purcell added.
"Viper" by its American and foreign pilots, the Fighting
Falcon is a mainstay in global air force circles. Its
ushering into the inventory of the U.S. Air Force during the
late 1970s confirmed a new wave of aerial warfare. A little
more than a decade later, the Dutch would be the first to
send their young air-cadets to the wing's F-16 Schoolhouse.
Though allied-nations share
a commitment to achieving peace in the world and prosperity
at home - cultural barriers are an unavoidable reality at
times, but nothing that trainees can't successfully
negotiate, according to Maj. Aaron Wildman.
continuously amazed by our student-pilot's abilities to
absorb instructions in English, and then spit it back out in
English, all the while impressing an instructor pilot," said
Wildman, who now serves as the assistant director of
operations for the 152nd Fighter Squadron.
strong command of a host-nation's language, however, is just
the beginning in a student-pilot's journey to commanding a
world-class, fighter jet. Initial instruction involves
learning the basics of aviation with trainer-designated
aircraft from Air Force units in Texas.
point, they make their way to Tucson, immersing themselves
into incremental phases that surround the transition from
trainer-jet to fighter-jet and culminating with the fighter
fundamentals of air-to-air engagements and air-to-surface
"The focus is on the tactical portion, and
how these tactics support the strategy of making a country's
air force stronger," explained Wildman. The entire
instructional process, he said, including the implementation
of a training syllabus, generally requires a commitment of
about four years from visiting wingmen.
Wing is the last leg of U.S. training before they go back
home. They've trained long and hard to get here - to fly
their own sorties," said 1st Lt. Melissa Gonzalez,
officer-in-charge of the International Military Student
Office (IMSO). "You can see their drive and enthusiasm."
Her office's contribution to the training mission is
simple: focus on administrative tasking, and let the
students focus on flying.
"On day one in training,
they [student-pilots] need to be in academics - ready to
learn - not having to worry about anything else, like
housing issues, out-processing and in-processing orders,
medical payments if needed," she said.
In addition to
building a mission-capable pilot, Chief of Safety Lt. Col.
Jeff Waterbury believes that inspiring intangible items to
foreign students serves a vital diplomatic function as well.
"We convey to them our brand of professionalism and what
duty, honor and country mean to this wing," he said. "It's
just as important as training them to be pilots."
By U.S. Air Force by SSgt. Erich Smith
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