RIONEGRO, Colombia --
The South Carolina Air National Guard wrapped up a full week in Rionegro supporting its State Partnership Program during the Colombian air force’s air and trade show, Feria Aeronautica Internacional – Colombia, July 13-16.
The week started with two 169th Fighter Wing, known by as “Swamp Fox”, F-16s flying to Colombia and meeting up with the Colombian air force’s Kfir fighter jets based in Palenquero for some mid-air training. The series of radio drills and intercepts which lasted for an hour and a half were aimed at assisting the Colombians prepare for Red Flag that is scheduled for March 2018.
U.S. Air Force Col. Nick Gentile, 169th Fighter Wing commander, called the experience both “productive” and “a positive bi-lateral exercise”.
“To meet and exercise on a deployment down is a first,” said Gentile.
While this was the first time the 169th Fighter Wing had deployed and exercised fighters to Colombia straight from South Carolina, it was not the first time the unit has sent F-16s to Rionegro. In 2014, the wing sent 100 airmen and six jets here in a two-week exercise called “Relampago” or Lightening in Spanish. Each year the South Carolina Air National Guard participates in Subject Matter Expert Exchanges with the Colombian air force ranging from medical to legal engagements.
After arriving in Colombia, the 169th FW joined with a KC-135 Stratotanker from Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, a KC-10 Extender from the 349th Air Mobility Wing at Travis Air Force Base, California, and the Air Combat Command’s Viper East Demo Team from Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, to participate in the four-day air show. U.S. Strategic Command also coordinated a B-52 Stratofortress flyover during the air show’s kick-off ceremony.
The Unites States Air Force’s participation in the air show provides an opportunity to strengthen the military-to-military relationships with regional partners and provides the opportunity to meet with Colombian air force counterparts.
“The Colombian people are extremely friendly and welcoming,” said Master Sgt. John Bonovich, 169th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron F-16 avionics technician. “They are eager to work with us, and good partners all the way around.”
Bonovich said during the F-16 and Kfir intercepts some communications issues were identified and the South Carolina Air Guard assisted in correcting those issues to improve interoperability between the two air forces.
Bonovich, and the other Swamp Fox airmen, who came for the air show spent their week interacting with the public, shaking hands, exchanging hugs and posing for thousands of pictures.
The week also included key leader engagements between U.S. military and U.S. State Department leaders and Colombian air force leadership. The series of meetings throughout the week further strengthened the partnership and helped identify areas the South Carolina National Guard and the Colombian military can work together in the future.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Chip Barton, Colombian Desk Officer at 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern), said the week was a huge success.
“We are demonstrating our commitment to the Colombian people by our presence here,” Barton said.
The South Carolina National Guard has been paired with the Republic of Colombia through the National Guard’s State Partnership Program since July 2012.