As part of ongoing cooperation between the U.S. and Dominican governments to provide disaster relief and counter international narcotrafficking, U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) assisted the Dominican Air Force (FARD, in Spanish) throughout 2018. The cooperation included equipment donations, training, and combined exercises to improve FARD’s response capabilities in rescue, air security, and the fight against drugs.
“SOUTHCOM’s cooperation through the Office of Security and Cooperation of the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic for different FARD squadrons, such as rescue and combat, represents an increase in operational capabilities for our Air Force,” FARD Lieutenant Colonel Damián Castro Ortiz, of the Air Command Rescue Squadron, told Diálogo. “It complements pre-established donations and agreements that include operational capabilities that were not developed.”
Among the main cooperation agreements between both countries, equipment donation is essential, as it increases Dominican pilots’ operational security. “The safer the air operations, the more operational they become; they give us the capability to start operations and complete them successfully,” FARD Colonel Randy Y. De los Santos, Rescue Squadron commander, told Diálogo.
Since FARD created the Rescue Squadron in 1958, U.S. authorities have helped the institution with donations, including helicopters and joint training to strengthen the military personnel professionally. “U.S. government cooperation is proof of the spirit of fraternity and cooperation that exists between our countries and our air forces,” Col. De los Santos said.
The Rescue Squadron is FARD’s most operational group. The institution’s helicopter pilots are the best-prepared units in case of emergency or disaster in the country. The squadron reports up to 3,500 flight hours per year as part of routine operations all along the island’s 4,000 square kilometers to serve the civil population.
“Thanks to the $500,000 worth of aviation and maintenance equipment SOUTHCOM donated to the Dominican Air Force in the last quarter of 2018, personnel of the rescue unit took part in the search for an aircraft that had an accident in the area of La Romana,” Col. De los Santos said. “During that tragic accident we used survival vests equipped with radios and compasses, as well as flight helmets with new technology to descend to that hard-to-reach place and accomplish the mission.”
During the accident, the rescue team also used night goggles in their search tasks to reduce potential risk during the operation. The United States donated the night vision equipment in 2013. Night vision technology helps authorities counter narcotrafficking, detect illegal flights, and increase the security of the Dominican airspace, as well as regional stability.
Donations and joint training with U.S. service members sustain, strengthen, and increase FARD’s evolution. “Cooperation always arrives at the right time to respond to any contingency and provide direct support for the operations of the Combat Squadron, which monitors illegal or irregular flights,” Col. De los Santos said. “We are on stand-by to assist the aircraft in any kind of situation that might happen during the fixed-wing squadron’s operations.”
In December 2018, FARD sent its best cadets to take part in the annual Latin American Cadets Initiative hosted by Air Forces Southern, SOUTHCOM’s air component, to prepare the best officers for leadership positions and improve their knowledge of U.S. military culture. On that occasion, cadets learned about weapons systems, instrument flight services, simulators, and cyberdefense.
In May 2018, the U.S. Air Force’s 571st Mobility Support Advisory Squadron conducted training for FARD members. The mission included stability capabilities in helicopters, corrosion control, hazardous materials management, and radio communications. Maintenance training helped fix a FARD forklift that was out of order for four months.
“Each capability lets us expand training and the vision of our personnel,” Col. De los Santos said. “Talking about U.S. cooperation means talking about the U.S. commitment to the Dominican people. The United States has always been a friend and the main strategic partner in terms of security, equipment, training, and instruction; hence, the country is truly thankful through FARD, which has benefited on many occasions.”