August 19, 2016 (by SSgt. Michelle Alvarez-Rea) - Approximately 200 Airmen and seven F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft are returning to Buckley Air Force Base, Aurora, Colo., after spending the last 28 days deployed to Hungary in support of Panther Strike 2016 and Operation Atlantic Resolve.
MSgt. John A. St. George, crew chief from the 140th Wing, Colorado ANG marshals an F-16 into position after landing at Papa AB in Hungary, while other crew chiefs chalk the wheels. This is the first time Colorado jets have landed in Hungary and the first time the Colorado Air Guard has been to Europe in at more than 20 years. [USAF photo by SMSgt. John Rohrer]
As part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, the Air Force routinely rotates forces in and out of Europe, which enhances the strength of NATO
alliances without the need to permanently base additional aircraft and Airmen in Europe.
This year, the 140th Wing, of the Colorado Air National Guard, was able to maximize the impact of their deployment by supporting both Operation Atlantic Resolve and participating in the multi-national exercise, Panther Strike 2016.
"We had an opportunity to deploy our F-16s in support of the European Reassurance Initiative and conduct flying operations with the Hungarian Air Force," said Col. Floyd Dunstan, commander of the 140th Wing. "We were also able to support Joint Terminal Attack Controller training for the Hungarian and Slovenian armed forces, which is very beneficial training for all of our forces."
Since Colorado and Slovenia have a more than 20-year relationship through the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program, the Colorado Air National Guard plays a critical role in the stability of the region.
"It is greatly important for us to train and fly with our NATO partners, not only Slovenia, but also Hungary," Dunstan said. "The joint training is very significant because it allows us to align our capabilities and further integrate multiple allied armed forces."
Throughout the deployment, the 120th Fighter Squadron conducted air-to-air missions with the Hungarian Gripen fighter aircraft, close air support, and forced air control support with the Hungarian and Slovenian JTACs. They also participated in cross-border flights with other deployed U.S. Air National Guard aircraft and allied nation aircraft from Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovenia.
Not only is the joint training beneficial, deploying military assets to Eastern Europe generates confidence that the United States military could feasibly be there at a moment's notice, at the defense of our allies.
"The purpose is not to support continuous operations, but to be here in case of a contingency situation and to train in exercises with our Slovenian partners," said Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, the Adjutant General of Colorado. "The facilities at the airport are amazing and contingency operation support is well in hand."
Airmen from the 140th Wing made an immense effort to prepare for F-16 operations and were fully operational within only a few days.
"It's pretty cool to be part of this trip because we were able to test the Mobile Aircraft Arresting System," said Maj. Abby Koehler, maintenance officer-in-charge during Panther Strike 2016. "It was the first time an F-16 has ever landed at Cerkjle ob Krki Air Base in Slovenia and we tested those capabilities here in Slovenia and in Hungary."
Not only were the facilities operationally tested, the wing helped to further develop the friendship between the U.S. and these NATO allies, Koehler said.
Hungarian maintainers accompanied the wing maintenance chiefs every day during the deployment, she said. "It's been great to see. They are here bright and early because we start at 0615 and they work the whole day with us."
The 140th Wing was able to effectively partner with the Hungarian Defense Forces and establish a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship between the NATO countries, from the roots up.
"It really feels like we are helping to pave the way for other countries and states to support peace initiatives in the region." Koehler said.
With every deployment and exercise of this nature, the cooperation and trust between allied nations grow and the combined military capability becomes even more refined.
Edwards sums up the objective of these European Reassurance Initiative deployments: "It is about a reassurance that we will be here; it's about deterrence, making sure that there is recognition and an ability to operate in an area where there could be conflict."
Without a doubt the Colorado Air National Guard's 140th Wing made another big step forward in further developing multi-national cooperation and reinforced the ongoing commitment the U.S. has to NATO during an unpredictable and uncertain time.