July 28, 2010 (by Ian Carrier) - Five members of the Uruguay air force visited July 26-28 and received briefings and orientation flights with the 93rd Fighter Squadron.
USAF F-16D block 30 #86-0053 from the 93rd FS takes to the air carrying Col. Jose Monteagudo, 482nd FW vice commander, and Uruguayan air force Capt. Patrick Jaimez, 2nd Air Brigade. Captain Jaimez flew with the 'Makos' as part of a subject matter expert exchange flight on July 26th, 2010 at Homestead ARB.
Col. Sergio Gonzalez, commander of Uruguay's 2nd Air Brigade, said the pilots came to Homestead by invitation from the U.S. Air Force through the American Embassy in Uruguay as part of an ongoing exchange program with U.S. Southern Command, which fosters close ties between the two nations.
"Our air force is continually improving our capabilities, particularly counter-narcotics," said Colonel Gonzalez. "The first stage in the process was to buy new ground radars. The second phase is to buy new aircraft. Our current tactical fleet is aging rapidly, and we are currently seeking to replace them with more current aircraft."
The pilots of the 2nd Air Brigade primarily fly A-37 Dragonflies, an attack version of a Vietnam War-era American trainer, and the FMA IA 58 Pucara, an Argentine counter-insurgency aircraft.
None of the aircraft that the Uruguayans currently fly has radar, so familiarization is one of the purposes of the visit. Although they are not in the market to buy F-16s, getting a chance to fly backseat in the 93rd's D-models will give the pilots the chance to experience the capabilities of the more modern planes.
Another purpose of the flights was to share subject matter expertise. One of the main missions of the Uruguay air force is the interception of illicit drug traffic. While in the air, actual training exercises were conducted with the intent to educate and foster a free flow of ideas between the American and Uruguayan pilots.
Capt. Patrick Jaimez was the first visiting pilot to get a flight.
"Amazing," he said. "It was a great experience. It was the first time I have flown supersonic, and I was able to see how the radar worked. And, I was able to experience the brotherhood (that pilots share) and the same universal spirit."
Lt. Col. Saint Lehtinen, U.S. Air Force section chief in the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo, Uruguay, served as host, escort, and translator for the group.
"Our mission in Uruguay is to help grow the nation's capabilities, security and stability," said Colonel Lehtinen. "We also want to promote U.S. interests, provide humanitarian assistance and counter drug trafficking."
According to Colonel Gonzalez, the Uruguayan air force often works closely with the United States. Many of the aircraft and training manuals come from the United States, so Uruguay frequently send people to America as part of the exchange program.
"I am very satisfied with this visit," said Colonel Gonzalez. "We have been made to feel at home - the integration is superb. Professionally, we will take home a lot of good experiences."
Uruguay has only 3,000 people in its air force but makes a major contribution to world peace. Ten percent of the country's military is deployed, making it the highest per-capita contributor to peacekeeping operations in the world. Currently, Uruguay is supporting operations in Haiti and Republic of Congo.
The last part of the three-day visit to Homestead ARB
was a visit to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, where they received a briefing and a tour of the facility.
The next stop for the five pilots will be Naval Air Station Key West, where they will receive exchange ideas with the U.S. Navy.