By Captain Nathan Broshear, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
/ Published April 22, 2008
Santiago, Chile -- More than 230 Airmen from across the Air Force returned to their home bases April 13 after supporting FIDAE and NEWEN 2008, the largest combined air, trade show and exercise event in South America.
The two-week effort saw Airmen flying in the skies over Santiago, Chile, hosting tours for members of the surrounding community; exchanging information with military and government staff; working alongside local charities and trading pointers with local sluggers.
"FIDAE 2008 was the largest assembly of U.S. Air Force aircraft ever for FIDAE and equaled the largest USAF participation worldwide at an air and trade show to date," said Col. James Russell, the 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) director of operations and officer in charge of the event.
Sixteen aircraft from across the Air Force, on the ramp and in the air, drew crowds from around Latin America -- allowing Airmen the opportunity to meet with members of the public, partner nation military members and media from around the world, sharing the Air Force story.
During FIDAE, the largest air and trade show in South America and the fourth largest exposition of its kind in the world, Airmen from 13 bases displayed the latest in military hardware for more than 120,000 attendees.
Crews were treated like celebrities at the expo, posing for photos with families and explaining the capabilities of their aircraft hundreds of times per day. According to representatives at the U.S. Embassy-Chile, the Airmen's patience and understanding helped Chilean citizens to better understand professional military members as many may never have met a person in the military before, much less an American. For those that could not meet with Airmen in person, crews were featured in dozens of local newscasts, print stories, blogs and YouTube broadcasts as a result of their participation.
"To depict this deployment simply as an air show diminishes what we really accomplished as 'Ambassadors in Blue' for the United States and our strong commitment to our partners in the Western Hemisphere," said Col. Russell. "We share common goals, a commitment to democracy, prosperity and stability throughout the Western Hemisphere -- this event enabled members of the public to meet American Airmen and understand the 'heart of service' found in every one of our men and women in uniform."
Airmen in the community
Each day, coordinated community relations events gave Airmen an opportunity to connect one-on-one with members of the Santiago community and present positive role models to local children. Several events focused on multi-national non-government organizations such as the Make-a-Wish Foundation and Teleton (an international charity in Latin America assisting disabled children), while other tours focused on niche interests such as aircraft maintenance or technical subjects.
"Airmen were able to host visits with more than 400 members of the community in only seven days," said 1st Lt Candace Cutrufo, a Public Affairs officer from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri deployed in support of the event.
"Every unit working as part of FIDAE/NEWEN participated in the success of 18 exciting events -- every one of the more than 230 Airmen deployed to Chile had a role in supporting the local community."
Air National Guard Bandsmen played a key role in augmenting planned community relations events. The Band of the Central States from St. Louis, Missouri, performed acoustic sets for children touring the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, a full rock-and-roll concert performance for several thousand families at the airshow venue and accomplished two special performances in support of U.S. Embassy-Chile mixers.
"It was incredible having the Band of the Central States here and they certainly made each community event one not soon forgotten -- it really added a touch of class to each event," added Colonel. Russell.
While some Airmen went out into the local community, others found their career specialty or aircraft were the center of attention. Enlisted Airmen from the 366th Fighter Wing at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, and the 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, hosted a class of 19 local technical/industrial high school students training to become aircraft maintainers. The students listened intently as U.S. Air Force maintainers described the nuances of repairing F-15E Strike Eagle and MQ-1 Predator aircraft and the rigorous training required to become a qualified crew chief.
Later, Air Force maintainers and aircrews led exclusive tours with groups ranging from Chilean national champion high school robotics team members and university students from the University of Chile Engineering School .
"Students from these tours asked some pretty tough questions," said Senior Airman Jeffery Rodriguez, an F-15E crew chief from the 366th FW. "They were very interested in understanding how the Air Force prepares us for our career and what some of the types of issues maintainers face each day working with technologically advanced aircraft."
To end the week's planned community relations initiatives, AFSOUTH planners worked with the U.S. Embassy-Chile and the Chilean Little League to organize a baseball game against the National All-Star team versus Air Force members. Between innings Airmen handed out souvenirs donated from the Major League Baseball team Colorado Rockies while the National Guard Band of the Central States rallied fans with musical flurries.
The Chilean Little League team won the game held at the National Stadium 8-5, but for Airmen the event was more about fellowship than athletic prowess.
"During and after the game participants were able to bond with players and their family," said Lieutenant Cutrufo. "After the game, Air Force members presented a 'Spirit of Arizona' memento to the league, coaches and players -- the Santiago Metros even invited our players back for a friendly rematch."
Subject Matter Exchanges
The massive FIDAE venue was also the backdrop for valuable subject matter exchanges. Federal Aviation Administration flight surgeon, Dr. Melchor Antunano, aerospace physiologist, Capt. Amy Weaton from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. and Maj. Regina Sabric, an F-16 pilot from Luke AFB, Ariz., gave presentations on female flight physiology to Chilean military members at a newly constructed conference facility. The presentations were a chance to discuss medical issues in an open forum, allowing medical staff from various nations to exchange experiences and remedies to benefit all attendees, said Lt. Col. Dana Willis, the Cooperation Team chief at 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern).
"In addition to our Chilean counterparts, we were pleased to be able to learn from medical presentations from around the world including such partners as Brazil and Russia," said Colonel Willis.
At a nearby Chilean Air Force hospital, Airmen from both countries also shared medical knowledge to prepare for trauma care. The two-day long medical summit featured an Air Force doctor, nurse and pararescue specialist lending his skills as an emergency medical technician. The team offered several classes on topics such as how to treat burn victims, abdominal injuries and more. Approximately 20 nurses and medical technicians attended the courses, taught in the hospital's education center.
Major (Dr.) John Dorsch, assigned to the 48th Rescue Squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., said the importance of the exchange could not be underestimated.
"There's a direct effect of being able to engage medical personnel in Chile to discuss developments in trauma care," the major said. "We all have subtle ways of doing things. It's an opportunity for us both to learn and exchange information. We also establish relationships as medical professionals bringing together common backgrounds. The rest just falls into place."
Capt. Felix Alicia, a flight nurse assigned to the 433rd Airlift Wing at Lackland AFB, Texas, said the meetings also allowed the team to gauge each other's readiness in times of crisis. "Operationally speaking, this visit allows us to assess what medical resources are available. So, if we ever have to work alongside each other in peace or in war, we'll have an idea where each units falls into the puzzle," Captain Alicia said.
In addition to medical exchanges, Red Horse experts from Nellis AFB, Nevada manned a booth at FIDAE showcasing their engineering techniques. Later in the week, the team conducted a subject matter exchange with the FACh Logistics Command, outlining rapid runway repair procedures.
After completing FIDAE, Airmen didn't simply head home; instead, aircrews, maintainers, and pararescue personnel prepared to work alongside their Chilean Air Force counterparts as part of the NEWEN exercise.
AFSOUTH planners purposely paired the NEWEN exercise with FIDAE to create additional "Bang For The Buck;" a USSOUTHCOM initiative, as well as, for the Air Force and the host nation after deploying Airmen south of the equator.
"This formula is quickly becoming the standard for Air Force involvement in air shows around the world," explained Colonel Russell. "It makes sense to capitalize on our gathering of aircraft and personnel in a foreign country to exchange expertise and enhance our capability to operate as a coalition, if so tasked, through execution of bi-lateral and multi-lateral exercises ...in this case we were able to conduct dissimilar air combat training, aerial refueling, Combat Search and Rescue and MEDEVAC missions; advancing our capability to act as partners whether responding to natural disaster for humanitarian relief or called upon to conduct full spectrum military operations."
NEWEN, or "force" in the native Mapucho dialect, was an opportunity for Airmen to work alongside Chilean partner military members in the skies over southern Chile close to Santiago and along the beaches of Quintero, Chile.
During the airborne phase of the exercise, air-to-air refueling missions were conducted with Chilean and USAF F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters using KC-10 Extender and KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft between air-to-air engagements.
"The Chilean aircrews have proven to be extremely proficient in their tactics," said Maj. Tim Sehnem, an F-16 pilot with the 457th Fighter Squadron at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, in Fort Worth, Texas after a sortie where his four-ship formation of USAF aircraft acted as "Red Air" (mock enemy forces) to challenge an oncoming FACh formation. "This mission was a learning experience for both sides of the dogfight -- I'm looking forward to the next sortie."
In addition to refueling operations, pararescue personnel from the 48th Rescue Squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., conducted pre-hospital trauma life support operations alongside Chilean pararescue personnel in classrooms and the field. A small beachside landing zone near Quintero was the site of a simulated mass-casualty event calling for rescue personnel to parachute in to provide care for "patients" made up of military co-workers.
An HC-130 Hercules flew over a pre-designated landing zone to allow for a practice pararescue jump prior to the full-scale deployment the next day. During the full-scale exercise, USAF and Chilean search and rescue personnel simulated a combat search and rescue recovery of downed aircrew and a mass-casualty evacuation as they stabilized and loaded the mock-patients aboard the HC-130 to be taken to hospitals or other treatment facilities.
"This event simulated the challenges rescue personnel face whether responding to a humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operation or emergency recovery of downed aircrew in a hostile environment," added Colonel Russell. "The goal is to exchange expertise and tactics, techniques and procedures in a safe environment to better prepare us to work seamlessly together if or when the unexpected eventuality calls us to execute in reality."
Immediately following NEWEN, the AFSOUTH logistics team began redeploying personnel, aircraft and equipment back to their home bases in the United States, but the positive impression USAF members have made on the people of Chile is sure to endure, said Colonel Russell.
"The people we've met and worked alongside in Chile have become life-long friends and strong military partners," affirmed the commander.
Between the myriad exercises, deployments for training and other air shows in Central, South America and the Caribbean, the AFSOUTH operations staff doesn't have a moment to spare -- in fact, their next event in the region is only a month away.
"In addition, our team is already planning for the next FIDAE....in 2010," he concluded.