Royal Netherlands Air Force crews come to Hill for extensive training exercises in War on Terror
Saturday, March 15, 2008
By Mitch Shaw, Standard-Examiner Davis Bureau
Hill Air Force Base - Fighting the War on Terror is a global effort.
That has been evident this month at Hill Air Force Base as fighter squadrons from Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands have been using the base's facilities to conduct training missions and perform upgrades to a fleet of their F-16s.
The 311th, 312th and 313th Fighter Squadrons from Volkel traveled across the Atlantic earlier this month to utilize Hill and the Utah Test and Training Range to prepare its pilots and maintainers for their role in the War on Terror.
"We are basically here doing upgrades and providing continuation training for combat-ready pilots," said Major Joost "Niki" Luijsterburg, director of operations with the 312th Fighter Squadron at Volkel. "This is a great place for us to train."
The group brought 11 of its own F-16s along and has been performing missions at the UTTR since March 3.
Luijsterburg said the group performs missions six days a week and launches its jets 24 times every day.
"We have been keeping pretty busy, but it's important training," he said. "We have to be prepared for what we are doing in Afghanistan."
The Royal Netherlands Air Force and other Dutch armed forces' presence in Afghanistan is a fact often overlooked when the topic of the War on Terror comes up, Luijsterburg said.
"Sometimes people think it's a U.S.-only show," he said. "But we've been deployed in Afghanistan since right after 9/11. We rotate units in and out."
The Netherlands first established a training partnership with the United States during World War II, after Adolf Hitler's blitzkrieg nearly wiped out the Dutch Air Force.
Luijsterburg said stopping terrorism will take a united effort among many nations.
"Terrorism is a threat to the entire free world," he said. "We have been lucky enough not to have two commercial airliners hijacked and flown into skyscrapers, but we see terrorist attacks in Europe as well. All those that believe in freedom have to stand together."
Luijsterburg has served three tours of duty in Afghanistan and will return again shortly; either during the next few months or during the holidays.
"I would rather not go over there," he said. "It's not pleasant -- you have people dying over there. I wish it wasn't necessary, but it is."
Luijsterburg, an avid snowboarder, speaks impeccable English and says even though his unit has been undergoing important training, he has found time to hit the slopes.
"The snow is a lot better here," he said. "We have been busy, but I've managed to get to Snowbasin and Powder Mountain two times each since I've been here."
1st Sgt. Pascal Sibbald is a jet maintainer with the crew and said he has also enjoyed his stay in Utah.
"I hear the rules are a little tighter here than in other states, but I have liked it so far," he said. "It's beautiful."
The Royal Netherlands Air Force was at Hill in August conducting similar missions, and Luijsterburg said they will probably be back soon.
"We are hoping to make it an annual trip," he said.
The group will finish up at Hill sometime in mid-April and will go through another round of training in Canada before cycling back into combat missions in Afghanistan.