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Airmen continue building South American partnerships

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Eric M. Grill
  • Defense Media Activity-San Antonio
More than 70 Airmen are spread across four South American countries learning and sharing with their partner nations' military members and performing community outreach events.

Operation Southern Partner, a Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) led event aimed at providing intensive, periodic subject-matter exchanges in the U.S. Southern Command area of focus, started Oct. 26.

"Operations like Southern Partner, in which we're able to work (not only) on humanitarian cooperation, but also on social acts of social responsibilities -- helping with the orphanages and with the schools -- really demonstrates the human face of our military-to-military relationship and I think strengthens relations more broadly between our societies," said the Honorable Paul E. Simon, U.S. Ambassador to Chile. "They are based on relations of mutual trust and mutual respect - one of our strongest aspects of our bilateral relationship here is our military-to-military ties."

Twenty-five Air Force career fields are represented with the Airmen engaging their host-nation military members in similar career specialties during week-long exchanges.

Career fields represented include public affairs, aircraft maintenance, general medicine, environmental, safety, occupational health, compliance assessment, and logistics among others.

During the first week of Operation Southern Partner in Chile, there were medical exchanges of information in regards to disaster response.

Talking specifically about the Chilean disaster response capabilities, Col. Scott Van Valkenburg, Air Forces Southern command surgeon general said, "What the Chileans will get out of this will be improved disaster response capability. Obviously for the United States when a country in South America improves in terms of their regional disaster response capability, then we benefit. When we look at a response to a world-wide disaster, we now have a partner in responding to disasters."

Lt. Col. Alger Rodo, the medical exchange coordinator for the Chilean Air Force agreed and said, "(Operation Southern Partner) has really improved our partnership and we hope to continue to do these military exchanges in the future, perhaps on some different themes," he said.

A C-17 Globemaster III from the 535th Airlift Squadron at Hickam Air Base, Hawaii was also dedicated to the operation and provided a first experience for the aircrew.

"It's a once in a lifetime deal for us," said Captain Nathan Glavich, the aircraft commander for a pararescuemen air drop between Airmen from both the U.S. Air Force and their Chilean counterparts in Iquique, Chile. "We don't get to come down to South America very often, let alone do airdrops here. Having a chance to do that and drop foreign 'PJs' and our 'PJs' together is definitely something that I will remember. This is the first time that our squadron has dropped foreign jumpers in South America. This experience is something that we as a crew, will not soon forget."

In Argentina, Airmen and more than 25 Argentinean air force aircraft maintenance mechanics, students and instructors came together at Palomar Air Base there to exchange new ideas and techniques on preserving and evaluating aircraft.

Argentinean air force Staff Sgt. Mariano Arnaudo, a C-130 mechanic, said he looks forward to building more relationships through Operation Southern Partner in the years to come.

"We are grateful for the information and technical documents provided and the ability to come together and share," Sergeant Arnaudo said. "I know this partnership will generate great results."

Some of the community outreach programs in Chile included visiting local orphanages in the Santiago area as well as the renovation of a high school culinary and hotel services' library near Quilpué.

Staff Sgt. Lorenzo Lara, an 819th Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer structural craftsman at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., was one of two RED HORSE engineers to help renovate the library.

"Professionally, this experience allowed me to learn firsthand the methods Chileans use to build and construct projects," Sergeant Lara said. "Personally, I'm speechless and was overwhelmed with how the Chileans welcomed us. Everyone is just friendly and outgoing towards us. This alone shows me how grateful the Chileans are for having us here."

With most of the planned activities in Chile completed, Airmen here will move forward to Uruguay and Argentina to continue the second phase of OSP while accomplishing a series of cultural exchanges with their counterparts in those countries.

Operation Southern Partner continues until Nov. 7.