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SAFE SKIES 2011 closing ceremonies, mission complete

July 29, 2011 (by Maj. Matthew T. Mutti) - SAFE SKIES 2011 came to a close on July 29 after twelve days of what officials said were successful flying training missions.

USAF F-16D block 30 #87-0379 from the 100th FS takes off at Mirgorod AB, Ukraine on July 30th, 2011 during Safe Skies 2011. [USAF photo by Maj. Matthew Mutti]

Lt. Gen. Vasyl Nikiforov, the deputy commander of the Ukrainian air force, addressed the 130 Air National Guardsmen as they stood in formation on the ramp here. Across from the U.S. Airmen, stood the nearly 200 Ukrainian airmen who participated in SAFE SKIES 2011.

SAFE SKIES was a multinational aerial event designed to provide a unique opportunity for Ukrainian, Polish and American air forces to fly together to help prepare the Polish and Ukrainians for enhanced air supremacy and air sovereignty operations. Through the State Partnership Program, California Air National Guard officials began planning this event in 2009.

ANG F-16 Fighting Falcons flew intercept missions with Ukrainian MiG-29 and SU-27 aircraft, as well as with Polish F-16s. The goal was to collaborate and share experiences on providing air sovereignty as Ukraine prepares to host the European soccer championship games in 2012.

In the U.S., defending the country from any airborne threats is one of the nation's highest priorities. Likewise, airspace defense is a common goal throughout Europe. This event was designed to foster improved communication and collaboration for this common goal.

Nikiforov opened the event by thanking all the participants for all their hard work, ensuring a successful engagement.

"We have been completely successful in our mission," said Nikiforov through a translator. "We have accomplished this historic event, and developed lasting friendships."

The ANG men and women provided invaluable training opportunities for the Polish and Ukrainian air forces by completing nearly 122 intercept missions. The U.S. pilots would participate in scenarios to exercise the Ukrainian and Polish command and control structure.

Within the scenarios the U.S. aircraft would operate as if they were distressed, hijacked, lost or flying in a simulated restricted airspace. The Ukrainian and Polish forces would respond accordingly and mitigate the potential airborne threat.

These types of exercises are completed regularly within the U.S. airspace. Controlled by First Air Force and NORAD, U.S. fighters sit on alert around the clock, a key component of the Air Guard's homeland defense mission.

During SAFE SKIES, the ANG team was able to share from their experience and provide insight for their European partners.

"Through the hard work of these Air National Guard members, we were able to fly 61 sorties during this event," said. Col. Scott Patten, the commander of the Alabama ANG's 187th Fighter Wing. "We were able to provide critical insight into air sovereignty operations; promoting safe skies for the 2012 (soccer championship games)."

Airmen from throughout the U.S. participated in this event, representing the Air Guard in Alabama, California, Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin. These Airmen worked within their 30 different specialties to collaborate on the shared goal of airspace defense.

"We have all gained from this experience," said Master Sgt. David Betts, an Alabama Air National Guardsman serving as the SAFE SKIES first sergeant. "The success of this event can be seen in the friendships we have forged and the lines of communication we have opened."

Courtesy of SAFE SKIES 2011 Public Affairs Officer

Additional images:

Seven ANG F-16s sit on the ramp at Mirgorod AB, Ukraine on July 19th, 2011. The ANG was in Ukraine supporting Safe Skies 2011. [USAF photo by TSgt. Charles Vaughn]