The skies roared with the sounds of U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons. Sounds that are not usually heard in a small mountain community in South America.
Far from home and familiar territory, airmen from all over the United States journeyed to Colombia and transformed a contingency location to conduct theater training as well as joint, coalition, and partnered missions during the course of a major international exercise.Airmen and pilots assigned to the 474th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron (EOSS) and 79th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron (EFS) respectively, dedicated themselves to techniques, tactics, and procedures to strengthen the longstanding partnership between Colombia and the United States during Exercise Relámpago VI at the 5th Aerial Combat Command (CACOM 5, in Spanish) in Rionegro, Colombia, throughout the month of July.
“The culture of the Colombian people is much like ours,” said U.S. Air Force Major General Barry R. Cornish, U.S. Air Forces Southern/12th Air Force (AFSOUTH) commander. “They have a strong sense of values, national security, democracy, and freedom. The Colombian people have always been great friends to the American people, and we are strongly committed to continuing that.”
During Relámpago VI, the established NATO partnership between Colombia and the United States allows for combat-ready pilots to integrate training and flying missions on multiple airframes.
“We’ll be practicing close air tactics, fighter fundamentals, and advanced tactics,” said U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William McDowell, 79th EFS and 474th EOSS commander. “We’re going to push the limits to see that both of our air forces and our talented pilots hone their skills to be that much betterying conducted during Relámpago VI includes cooperative training on basic fighter maneuvering and air combat maneuvering, but the exercise mirrors powerful real-world implications in maintaining regional security with training sorties focused on developing defensive counter air tactics and large force exercises.
“Relámpago VI will essentially be replicating certain threats,” said U.S. Air Force Captain Jack Corriere, 79th EFS pilot. “Ultimately as a pilot our objective is to be able to conduct missions as partner nations in NATO, and when we are called upon we can operate together and be confident in that.”
For the Colombian Air Force, this opportunity has allowed for more interaction with partners who are experienced fighter pilots, having flown in a multitude of engagements and global theaters.
“As pilots, and as friends, we’ve strengthened our interoperability,” said Colombian Air Force Major Oscar Ramos, 111th Fighter Squadron commander. “They have real combat experience and that has helped us to improve and be more lethal.”
The exercise presented challenges to the newly assembled 79th EFS and 474th EOSS airmen who made necessary modifications with regards to respecting and embracing the terrain, language, and customs from operating in a foreign country.
“We do things differently, but we strive for the same tactics and it’s been a learning process training with pilots from a different nation,” said Capt. Corriere. “Ultimately we share the same values and goals and due to that fact, we’ve been able to train here efficiently and get the mission done.”
The ongoing learning process led to opportunities for the 474th EOSS to derive strategy and implement previous home station training to conduct successful logistics operations working in tandem with Colombian partners.
The logistics operations began with working alongside airfield management officials at José María Córdova International Airport, which hosts a shared runway for military and civilian aircraft. 474th EOSS airmen installed a mobile aircraft arresting system and transformed a small area of CACOM 5 to be able to prepare, launch, and recover combat training sorties of both the U.S. Air Force F-16 and the Colombian Air Force KFIR.
“The practice we receive packing up all of our equipment, scheduling the airlift flights, landing at a strange new base for us, setting up our facilities and then flying missions rapidly are all skills we need in combat,” said U.S. Air Force Colonel Lawrence T. Sullivan, 20th Fighter Wing commander, after visiting the team during Relámpago VI.
During the month-long exercise, the commitment to mutually beneficial cooperation with Colombia and its citizens echoes enduring promises between partners and will allow for a valuable and memorable experience for both forces.
“There will be a lot of strategic and operational outcomes from this amazing event,” said Lt. Col. McDowell. “But what I’m most looking forward to seeing is that glow and pride from our airmen knowing they are part of something special and that they both contributed and benefited from its success. You can’t say it, you have to see it, that symbol of the way someone carries themselves that says, ‘mission accomplished.’