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Chile, U.S. aircraft maintainers find common ground in the profession of arms

IQUIQUE, Chile -- Tech. Sgt. BJ Kelley, 161st Air Refueling Wing crewchief, talks with a Fuerza Aerea De Chile maintainer before launching a KC-135 during SALITRE, a multinational exercise focused on interoperability between Chile, the United States, Argentina, Brazil and France. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Eric Petosky)

IQUIQUE, Chile -- Tech. Sgt. BJ Kelley, 161st Air Refueling Wing crew chief, talks with a Fuerza Aerea De Chile maintainer before launching a KC-135 during SALITRE, a multinational exercise focused on interoperability between Chile, the United States, Argentina, Brazil and France. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Eric Petosky)

IQUIQUE, Chile -- Combined exercises present an opportunity for the U.S. Air Force to work together with partner nations in preparation to assist allies with humanitarian assistance and regional security threats during real-world crises. Exercise SALITRE, a multinational exercise hosted by the Fuerza Aerea de Chile, was no exception.

Chile, the United States, Argentina, Brazil, and France participated in the exercise in a variety of ways, from command and control to combat search and recovery. All Airmen had to see beyond their own Air Forces traditional operating methodology and adapt to an environment which combined five countries under a common cause.

For the maintainers of the 161st Air Refueling Wing, an Air National Guard unit operating out of Iquique, the adaptation went beyond merely working together. They found a 'common culture' between themselves and FACh maintainers, which at first led to rapport, and later developed into friendships.

"The FACh provided us with all the support we needed, like fuel, oxygen and equipment," said Master Sgt. Joe Barreras, 161st ARW Aircraft Maintenance superintendent. "As the exercise started, we all started working together as a team. We were all here for the same reason, and they opened their arms to us right away."

The FACh maintenance teams, who support Chilean F-5s, A-36, and F-16s stationed in Iquique, impressed Sergeant Barreras with their discipline and professionalism, he said. The 30-year Guardsman saw the same qualities in FACh Airmen that he did in his own.

"They are a very well-disciplined maintenance crew," he said. "They have the same sense of urgency, and the same priorities as we do - keep the aircraft flying and keep your people safe. They take care of business just like we do. It's impressive."

When the work for the day was finished Oct. 23, the FACh maintainers even went so far as to invite all the U.S. Airmen to a barbecue. Just as they shared their expertise on the flightline, at the barbecue they swapped stories about family, life, and their military experiences. In return for the hospitality, the KC-135 unit offered incentive rides to FACh maintainers.

"You should have seen their faces when they stepped off the aircraft," Sergeant Barreras said. "They appreciated the flights so much, and it really showed our common cause. They were waving to the pilots, whose aircraft they had just launched, while the F-16s were getting refueled by the tanker. It really shows how we all work together."

Master Sgt. Segovia, a 28-year FACh maintenance technician, agreed with Sergeant Barreras about the common ground each Airmen shares regardless of national origin.
"We have a lot of respect for the mechanics from the United States," he said. "They know their profession, like we know ours, and they get the work done. There is a bond there - and trust. There is a very good rapport between our countries, and I consider these Airmen my friends as well as allies."

That friendship is the best part about participating in SALITRE for Master Sgt. Jeff Swab, KC-135 crewchief. This is Sergeant Swab's third trip to Chile, and he said he would "come back tomorrow" he's enjoyed it so much.

"I've met many FACh Airmen in my past deployments, and we integrate very well together," he said. "The lasting friendships, the camaraderie with the Chileans is the best. They go out of their way to be as hospitable as possible."

The hospitality, mission support, and ability to integrate successfully all falls back into the theme of 'common culture,' he said, where the mission of keeping aircraft flying bridges any obstacle during combined operations.

"Airplanes are airplanes," Sergeant Swab said. "The FACh have an extremely high standard of maintenance - their dedication and devotion to duty are right up there. I think that's why we integrate so well together. Both services are very similar. The only difference is geographic location. We are still all maintainers; a tight-knit, strong family."

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