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U.S. Exchange Pilot Supports German Helicopter Mission in Kosovo

By Staff Sgt. Carla Williams, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro, July 15, 2005 – Since Vietnam helicopters have proven how invaluable they are in day-to-day operations in a combat zone because of their flexibility. Today's helicopter crews must be "jacks of all trades" ready to fly whatever mission they're assigned to.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Capt. Phillip Petro, a U.S. Air Force exchange pilot at Toplicane German Army Feldlager, in the Multinational Brigade Southwest, here in Kosovo, inspects a German U1-D Helicopter July 14 prior to takeoff from Camp Film City, Pristina. He is permanently assigned as an exchange pilot to the German Luftwaffe, 2nd Squadron, 61st Air Transport Wing Landsberg Air Base, Germany, where he flies the German UH-1D helicopter. Photo by Staff Sgt. Carla Williams, USAF

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

One airman assigned to the German contingent in support of Operation Joint Guardian in Kosovo continues to master these skills.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Phillip Petro works as an exchange pilot at Toplicane German Army Feldlager, in the Multi-National Brigade Southwest, in Kosovo. He is permanently assigned as an exchange pilot to the German Luftwaffe, 2nd Squadron, 61st Air Transport Wing Landsberg Air Base, Germany, where he flies the German UH-1D helicopter.

"Here [in Kosovo] we are part of the combined air component of the German Army, German Luftwaffe, Austrian Air Force and Swiss Air Force known as Task Force Mercury based in Toplicane," he explained. "We provide airlift, medevac, search and rescue, security and reconnaissance, fire fighting, and all of the other capabilities helicopter platforms can provide."

Petro, who has been in the Air Force for eight years, said he and his colleagues are ready at all times to support the Kosovo Forces mission.

"Recently, we were called upon to battle a fire that was threatening nearby troops and inhabitants. We rapidly responded as a multinational team of German, Austrian, and Swiss assets and brought the fire under control," he said. "We are rapidly employable, ready to bring troops to the fight, wounded to the hospital, and support continued combat operations through the flexibility and responsiveness we provide combatant commanders."

Petro has been in his current position as an exchange officer for nearly two years and feels his job to KFOR is unique.

"The opportunity to work as an exchange officer gives an unparalleled insight into how our friends and allies operate. You cannot get a more 'joint/multinational' assignment than this," he added. "Being a part of a foreign military requires personal adjustment and flexibility, but broadens personal experience not only as a U.S. Air Force officer but also as an American citizen. The opportunity to command an aircraft with another nation's flag painted on the tail is pretty exclusive."

According to the captain, Toplicane is small in comparison to U.S. Air Force operations. "I like to say it is a lot like the TV Show 'MASH,' tents and all. Everyone here likes to refer to the Camp as 'aircraft carrier Toplicane' because the camp is roughly the size of an aircraft carrier," Petro explained. "We have everything one expects at aviation units, but on a much smaller scale, including base operations, weather, a fire department, civil engineer, communications, medical staff, maintenance and security forces."

The lone, American exchange officer will take away much from his Kosovo experience.

"First, I take away a greater appreciation of what the American people provide U.S. servicemembers. American facilities and support of our troops are first-class, and we should not take that for granted," he said. "Secondly, I take away a well-rounded perspective. I have really learned what interoperability requires and what it takes to successfully build and maintain a multinational force, and just because it is not the American way doesn't mean it will not work."

Lastly, Petro hopes to take the many lessons learned in Kosovo and make use of them in his Air Force career. "I am glad to have the opportunity to deploy with German forces and the Luftwaffe and feel this is really the final step in becoming integrated as an exchange officer - It is one thing as an exchange officer to be part of a squadron and never leave home station/country and a completely different thing to observe first hand how foreign units conduct their deployment operations," he said.

"Through this experience deploying as part of the German Luftwaffe, I have been afforded a rare glimpse of our NATO partners here in Kosovo, as well as getting to see U.S. Forces and operations from the rarely viewed exterior vantage point. My KFOR deployment is truly a once in a lifetime experience."

(Air Force Staff Sgt. Carla Williams, who writes for Kosovo Forces Press Service, works in the Kosovo Forces Public Information Office.)

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