MIRGOROD AIR BASE, UKRAINE – Flying and maintaining multi-million dollar aircraft is never easy, but the challenge becomes more difficult when the aircraft with maintenance and support operation teams are moved to a country that has never hosted U.S. Air National Guard fighters before.
Air National Guard F-16C/D fighters from Alabama and Iowa, and 130 personnel from California, Alabama, Washington, Wisconsin and Massachusetts relocated here to support SAFE SKIES 2011, a multinational event, where the Air National Guard flies with the Ukrainian and Polish Air Forces to help provide better airspace defense for the upcoming 2012 EUROCup.
The logistics and planning that goes into a 15-day event of this magnitude is colossal. The preparation for this event began nearly two years ago with a planning team from California working through every contingency scenario to ensure that they could provide Air Superiority and Air Sovereignty operations training to allied partners. The overall goal of this event is to better prepare the Ukrainian and Polish Air Forces for a large-scale international sporting event like the EUROCup.
Prior to the fighter aircraft arriving, an advance team of 30 members landed and delivered many of the required supplies. A C-17 from the 172nd Air Wing, Mississippi Air National Guard, transported many of the larger pieces of equipment like generators, light-alls and a spare engine. It took seven members from the logistic team to unload the aircraft and work the cargo through customs.
The Mobile-Barrier Team from Ramstein Air Base, Germany had to set up a mobile arresting system prior to their arrival. The arresting system or ‘barrier’ is a key piece of safety equipment used by the F-16 aircraft. In the event of an in-flight emergency, a pilot could engage the barrier with the aircraft’s tail-hook and stop the aircraft in a very short distance. After the barrier system was operational, U.S. fighter aircraft could arrive and begin SAFE SKIES.
As flying operations commenced, so did aircraft maintenance operations. Aerospace ground equipment, avionics, fuels, hydraulic propulsion, and weapons were just part of the list of required aircraft maintenance support reads like the alphabet from A-Z. The maintenance team has also harnessed the collective strength of the Ukrainian maintainers to work beyond language and supply limitations, to achieve a very aggressive flying schedule.
“The ability to work with our Ukrainian friends has allowed us to work beyond any potential road-blocks,” said Col. Scott Patten, 187th Fighter Wing Commander and Detachment Commander for SAFE SKIES 2011. “When you execute an operation of this magnitude, you will always need to adjust your plan using the available resource. Our resilient team and our strong relationship with the Ukrainian leadership have helped us to continue despite potential setbacks.”
The maintenance and logistics teams have worked hard to ensure this event’s success; it takes a great deal of planning and determination when you are in uncharted waters, added Patten. “This is the first State Partnership event of this size and the first time an Air National Guard unit has operated out of Ukraine.”
Airman 1st Class Tyler Boswell, a crew chief from the Alabama Air National Guard, has been in the unit for two years and is very impressed with how quickly the unit has gelled. “If you look across the wing, you’d never know we were all from different units, this is what makes the guard so special; we all work so well together.”
Master Sgt. Charles Mathews, an Alabama Air National Guard crew chief , said collaboration and communication are the foundation of this exercise. “We are helping the Ukrainians better protect their airspace for the EUROCup, and this type of event would only be possible through working together. It is a great feeling, knowing that we helped launch the jets that support this initiative.”
The maintenance team coordinates their activities through a Ukrainian translator, Lt. Col. Andrii Feklistov. He has really enjoyed this partnership and looks forward to the next visit by the Air Guard Airmen. “I feel that we have both learned a lot,” said Feklistov.
Feklistov sums up his personal experience in Sake Skies by saying, “we are building a ‘ship’: partner-ship, friend-ship through fellow-ship.”