Colombian air force commander visits McEntire Joint National Guard Base
By Lt. Col. Jim St. Clair, South Carolina National Guard
/ Published April 12, 2013
EASTOVER, S.C. -- Gen. Tito Saul Pinilla Pinilla, the commander of the Colombian air force, toured McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover April 8, as part of a weeklong visit to the United States.
The adjutant general of South Carolina, Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston, Jr., hosted Pinilla for the latest engagement of the newly formed State Partnership Program between South Carolina and the Republic of Colombia. South Carolina and Colombia formally established their bilateral relationship during a ceremony held in Columbia, S.C. last July.
The SPP is a joint venture of equal partners and as well as one of shared responsibilities in addressing transnational concerns.
Pinilla, along with Colombian Brig. Gen. Carlos Eduardo Bueno Vargas (Commander, Combat Air Command Number 1), arrived at McEntire from Washington D.C. and were escorted by Lt. Gen. Robin Rand, commander of 12th Air Force. A fighter pilot with more than 8,000 flight hours in various airframes, Pinilla is no stranger to the United States, as he has served in several bilateral assignments with the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy during his career. His visit to McEntire was his first trip to South Carolina.
"You have a new partner in Colombia and we want to be closer to you. We want to share experiences and training with you," said Pinilla.
Pinilla and Livingston met in February when Livingston led a team to Bogotá to meet with Colombia's military leadership. Unlike the U.S. Air Force, all aircraft in the Colombian military fall under the control of Colombian Air Force.
"I was surprised when Gen. Livingston visited Colombia to learn that he has both fighters and helicopters under his command," Pinilla said.
During his visit to McEntire, Pinilla received briefings from the South Carolina Air National Guard's 169th Fighter Wing as well as the South Carolina Army National Guard's rotary wing units. Pinilla was particularly interested in the SCANG's F-16s, especially the maintenance and logistics facilities required to support that aircraft.
"In our future, we are planning to buy F-16s for the Colombian Air Force. But we need to know about maintenance and logistics. We need your people to advise us about these things," Pinilla said. The general also remarked he views the SPP as a two way street. "We want to work with you both ways. We want to support you too."
Pinilla observed a practice scramble of F-16s at the Aerospace Control Alert facility at McEntire during his windshield tour of the base. The ACA's F-16s are required to launch within minutes of notification for missions to defend air space along the east coast.
Other stops on the tour included operations, maintenance, Army aviation and an F-16 avionics demonstration on the flightline. Pinilla also received a tour of the new Joint Armed Forces Reserve Center at McEntire where they ate lunch.
"Our partnership with Colombia has evolved rapidly since its establishment less than a year ago. Each subsequent visit has been a vital exchange of information and experience that will strengthen our long-term relationship. Our time with General Pinilla and his team touched on everything from our strategic vision to specific mission sets, and it set the stage for exciting collaborations between our 169th Fighter Wing and the Colombian Air Force," Livingston said.
Before departing, Pinilla remarked he was very impressed with what he saw during his visit to McEntire JNGB. He also said he is looking forward to the continuing evolution of the State Partnership Program between South Carolina and Colombia.
"Thank you for your passion and support and for being our friends," he said.