Silver Flag builds NATO partnerships

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RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — U.S. Air Force Reserve Staff Sgt. Maurice Wakins and Private 1st Class Stanko Bosnjak test water they have just purified using the H9518-1 reverse osmosis water purification unit. This year's Silver Flag Exercise hosted here Feb. 21-28 allowed USAFE Airmen, Air Force Reserve and members of the Croatian Army for the first time to observe how Airmen prepare to deploy to austere locations. (U.S. Air Force photo Tech. Sgt. Michael Voss)

RAMSTEIN AIR FORCE, Germany — Croatian Army soldiers observe U.S. Air Force airmen test water ph-levels prior to using the H9518-1 reverse osmosis water purification unit. The Croatian Army for the first time was able to attend this year's Silver Flag Exercise hosted here Feb. 21-28. (U.S. Air Force by Tech. Sgt. Michael Voss)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany— U.S. Air Forces in Europe's top priority is to partner with the Joint and Combined team to win today's fight. To achieve this priority, USAFE airmen often work side-by-side with other nations, learning from each other's missions and how each country trains for contingencies.

The latest USAFE Silver Flag Exercise, hosted Feb. 21-28, offered airmen from Italy to England, as well as Air Force Reserve members from as far away as Georgia, to participate in a week-long contingency operations training exercise here. More importantly, the exercise opened the door for international partners, allowing members of the Croatian Army for the first time to observe how airmen prepare to deploy to austere locations and works together setting up and sustaining bases.

For seven days, four members of the Croatian Army not only observed specialists like civil engineers, services, logistics, medics and personnelists as they received classroom and field training, as well as the opportunity to take part in many contingency scenarios.

"This is the first time we have been able to provide this type of familiarization training to the Croatians," said Maj. Matthew Rochon, a civil engineer assigned to the USAFE Plans and Program Directorate.

The major is also assigned to the newly established 16F careerfield as a regional affairs specialist, so he knows the full importance of meeting the USAFE priority.

"Now that building partnerships has been designated a priority, we are finding there is an immediate effect," he said. "We have had several NATO countries express interest in coming to this type of training."

With 61,000 military members, the Croatian Army is small compared to America's Department of Defense; however, Croatia is one of 28 NATO and 14 non-NATO countries who stand alongside the United States in support of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

"Many of our partnering and future partner countries either have small militaries or no Air Force whatsoever, but they can help support our mission by providing those service support functions like airfield repair or setting up utility systems," Rochon said. "By helping us set up and maintain a bare base, they free up our resources to continue other mission related tasks."

As USAFE and the Department of Defense continue adapting to ensure forces are correctly postured to provide the support required for Overseas Contingency Operations, they are also seeking opportunities to train alongside NATO partners as they prepare to undertake deployments enabling more effective support of combatant commanders.

As Croatian Army Private 1st Class Goran Volf, explained "I am simply amazed by this experience," he said. "Our Army is still young and developing. Everything here is so organized, and the people are very knowledgeable. We have learned so much in a short time."

And the skills they acquired here are the same skills they can use in their Croatian units.

"I lead a section in my unit that handles water purification at home," said Croatian Army Platoon Commander 2nd Lt. Sabina Sacer. "This is the first cross-nation training we have done, and this is the type of training I can use in my platoon."

After a week's worth of training and working together, relationships had clearly been established -- but more importantly, a simple understanding of each other's military was created.

"I was a little surprised," said Staff Sgt. Maurice Wakins, 94th Civil Engineer Squadron technician from Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga. "To tell you the truth, before this training I couldn't tell you where Croatia is on the map. I think they are leaving this training with an understanding of how our military works and I have gained a knowledge and appreciation not only for their culture, but their support of our culture."

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