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Total Force Airmen participate in Chilean exercise

  • Published
  • By Capt. Sarah Schwennesen
  • 12th Air Force and Air Forces Southern Public Affairs
Active duty, Reserve and National Guard Airmen from across the southwest came together in Iquique, Chile, to participate in WILLKA, Chile's first exercise with their new F-16's, their F-5's and the U.S. Air Force. From Oct. 15-19, approximately 130 Airmen will train with their Chilean counterparts and fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the KC-135 Stratotanker.

This week-long exercise is designed to familiarize the Chilean and U.S. Air Force personnel in training together. The pilots are training in various air-to-air techniques and in air refueling. The operations, maintenance and logistics support personnel are also conducting training in their respective fields.

Reservists from the 301st Fighter Wing at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Ft. Worth, Texas, brought six F-16's and about 80 personnel to the exercise. "The exercise is very valuable in strengthening the relationship between our Air Forces," said Col. Kevin E. Pottinger, 301st Fighter Wing Commander. "When some of our equipment and personnel were delayed coming down here initially, the Chileans stepped up with great support and that broke the ice, starting the exercise off on great footing."

The refueling aspect of the exercise was conducted by Airmen from the 161st Air Refueling Wing at Phoenix Air National Guard Base in Arizona. Maj. John Dickman, the mission commander, felt that the exercise provided very unique training. "Many of the combined operations have been going on for so long that they're familiar, but operating in airspace with so many different things going on is very valuable. Flying with a reserve unit, Chilean F-16s and F-5s presents an opportunity for our aircrews to gain more experience."

The pilots are conducting air combat training with similar and dissimilar aircraft. They all use standard U.S. Air Force terminology is used during flights, "so the language was not a problem and radio communication went smoothly," said Maj. Tim Sehnem, an F-16 pilot from the 301st. "This is our first combined exercise with Chile and we have been learning a lot and enjoying flying with the Chilean F-16's and their F-5's. The dissimilar training is useful because the F-5's are small and nimble, good to fly against."

Col. Tommy Williams, 301st Operations Group commander was asked by a Chilean about his experiences as a pilot in a 'world class' Air Force flying with the Chilean Air Force. His response: "The Chileans are world class as well, they have great airplanes and their pilots are very skilled, it's a pleasure training here."

Alejandro Goñi, the Minister of Defense of Chile, observed WILLKA and flew in Chile's newest acquisition, the F-16, on the second day of this week-long exercise. The Minister, Chile's Air Force Chief of Staff, General Ricardo Ortega, and Combatant Commander, Lt. Gen. Jorge Rojas, also reviewed the training that was conducted.

General Rojas said, "This opportunity is unique for us to integrate with the U.S. Air Force and improve our capabilities. It's a change from our normal exercises and the exchanges between the different cultures and operational perspectives are very informative."

Colonel Pottinger said, "Even though we just got back from Operation Iraqi Freedom, we've had more volunteers than positions to come out here. Everyone is very happy and learning a lot. They love doing things with other people, visiting with disadvantaged children and seeing other parts of the world."

Command Chief Master Sergeant Jack Mills from the 301 FW said that WILLKA underscores the importance of language and PME. "We have Spanish speakers in the unit and they're enjoying speaking Spanish. This exercise highlights the fact that you're going to have to have some language skills, this will be your future."

Col. Jim Russell, the Air Forces Southern exercise Mission Commander said, "This event is a great opportunity for the U.S. and Chilean Air Forces to improve their operational relationship. It provides tactically demanding training events that enhance the skills of the participating pilots and enables exchanges between Chilean and USAF Airmen to share corporate knowledge."