State Partnership Program demonstrates true collaboration with California

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NORTH SEA (July 26, 2011) Mr. Charlie Baker (second from right), a civilian who works with the Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 2 area search platoon, discusses the search parameters of the next mission with Navy archeologist Alexis Catsambis aboard the Military Sealift Command rescue and salvage ship USNS Grasp (T-ARS 51). MDSU-2 and Navy archeologists, scientists, and historians are in the North Sea conducting diving operations verifying the sites of suspected shipwrecks. The researchers hope to find USS Bonhomme Richard, the historic ship commanded by John Paul Jones. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ja'lon A. Rhinehart/RELEASED)

Members of the California and Alabama Air National Guards arrive at Mirgorod Air Base, Ukraine July 16 2011 to take part in Safe Skies 2011. Safe Skies 2011 is a military-to-military exchange between the US, Ukraine and Poland to enhance airspace security over the Ukraine and Poland in preparation for Eurocup 2012. (U. S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Charles Vaughn, 144 FW/PA / Released)

Lt. Col. Robert Swertfager, 144th Fighter Wing California Air National Guard, discusses the itinerary for Safe Skies 2011 with his Ukrainian counterparts July 16. Safe Skies 2011 is a State Partnership program military-to-military exchange between California, Ukraine and Poland to enhance airspace security over the Ukraine and Poland in preparation for Eurocup 2012. (U. S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Charles Vaughn, 144 FW/PA / Released)

Ukraine SU-27s fly with Air National Guard F-16s over the sunflower fields of Ukraine during SAFE SKIES 2011. Safe Skies 2011 is a military-to-military exchange between the US, Ukraine and Poland to enhance airspace security over the Ukraine and Poland in preparation for Eurocup 2012. (U. S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Charles Vaughn, 144 FW/PA / Released)

Lt. Col. Kirk Toomey of the California Air National Guard sits in a planning meeting before the launch of an intercept mission during SAFE SKIES 2011. Safe Skies 2011 is a military-to-military exchange between the US, Ukraine and Poland to enhance airspace security over the Ukraine and Poland in preparation for Eurocup 2012. (U. S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Charles Vaughn, 144 FW/PA / Released)

The National Guard State Partnership Program paired 144th Fighter Wing from Fresno Air National Guard Base, California, with Mirgorod Air Base, Ukraine. Through the program, and SAFE SKIES 2011, the 144th Fighter Wing has developed a strong bond with the former soviet bloc-country.

California has been planning SAFE SKIES 2011 since 2009. Lt. Col. Robert Swertfager, SAFE SKIES Project Officer and member of the 144th Fighter Wing, said “our partnership has laid the foundation for this event, and this engagement is providing Ukraine an amazing opportunity to learn more about air sovereignty operations.”

More than 60 air sovereignty mock intercepts were scheduled during the event. Members of the Western Air Defense Sector traveled to Mirgorod Air Base to provide support and to work with their Ukrainian counterparts. Ukrainian Su-27s and MiG-29s, and Polish F-16s intercepted Air National Guard aircraft during air sovereignty events. The Air National Guard F-16s played the role of distressed or hijacked aircraft, creating potential airborne threats over the Ukrainian and Polish populace. Scenarios like these force the allied partners to test their alter response mechanisms, which will better prepare them for a real airborne threat.

“We learned so much from the events of September 11, 2001,” said Lt. Col. Kirk Toomey, the SAFE SKIES Operations Project Officer and Alert Commander at the 144th Fighter Wing. “We want to share from our experiences and better enable them to protect their citizens from any terrorist threats. Protecting the EUROCup spectators is similar to us protecting the football fans watching the Super Bowl.”

Another task of Air National Guard pilots was to work with the Polish Air Force to test any communication limitations specific to air sovereignty operations.

“The collaboration with Poland is also a very important aspect of this event,” said Toomey. “Understanding each others’ tactics is critical to the collaboration required in air sovereignty missions.”

“This state partnership initiative sets the foundation for future training with Ukraine. The lessons learned during this engagement will provide us with valuable information for deploying Fresno fighter aircraft and personnel in the future,” Toomey added.

SAFE SKIES, a two-week event, concludes tonight with a friendship dinner. “It’s a time for us to reflect on the interactions that have taken place during Safe Skies 2011 and an opportunity to look forward to future partnership events,” said Swertfager.

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