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Airmen Train With NATO Allies

By Capt. Nicholas J. Sabula, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

POCEK, Slovenia, Oct. 8, 2004 – Airmen from Aviano Air Base, Italy, joined forces with troops from one of NATO's newest member nations Oct. 4-7 to improve the way they rescue downed pilots.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. James Davis, left, goes over the use of a global positioning system with Slovenian Lt. Roskar Zelko, middle, and Maj. Ales Stimec during combat-search-and-rescue training in Pocek, Slovenia, Oct. 5. Davis is a survival, escape, resistance and evasion instructor assigned to Aviano Air Base, Italy. American and Slovenian air force members exchanged information concerning escape and evasion procedures during Adriatic Rescue 04, a U.S.-Slovenian exercise. Photo by Master Sgt. John E. Lasky, USAF

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

The training was part of Adriatic Rescue 04, a U.S.-Slovenian combat search- and-rescue exercise. While Slovenia had conducted similar training with the United States before, this was the most comprehensive training of its kind to date, involving multiple facets both in the air and on the ground.

"This training is important for improving the interoperability with our NATO allies," said Air Force Col. Steve Schrader, 31st Operations Group commander. "It's going to greatly benefit both of our countries."

The exercise consisted of practicing full-spectrum combat search-and-rescue operations starting from the time a pilot hits the ground to the point when he is extracted from the area and returned home safely.

Teams from Slovenia's 15th and 1st brigades worked both with and against members of the 31st Fighter Wing from Aviano to make the experience as realistic as possible. Croatian, Macedonian and Albanian representatives also observed the training to better understand how they can fit into NATO operations.

"A key point we're trying to get out of this exercise is how we can work together better in the future, especially with our new NATO partners," said Lt. Col. Dave Gundersen, 16th Air Force chief of current operations.

Gundersen briefed the exercise to Slovenian Army Chief of General Staff Gen. Maj. Ladislav Lipic, Minister of Defense Anton Grizold, and U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia Thomas B. Robertson prior to a rescue demonstration Oct. 4.

Slovenian air assets played a major part in the rescue scenarios by serving as the rescue teams, sending their helicopter teams to rescue the downed pilots.

Aviano sent F-16CG Viper aircraft from the 555th Fighter Squadron to escort Slovenian helicopters into the pickup zone. Slovenian PC-9M aircraft pilots in turn acted as aggressors, or red air, and tried to shoot down the helicopters. The Vipers practiced close-air support, low-altitude operations training, search and rescue, and air-to-air combat training.

"Each pilot has a dedicated role in the combat search-and-rescue scenario, each having different duties," said Gundersen. "At the end of this exercise, we'll have more of our pilots qualified fully in combat search and rescue; therefore, (this is) a great opportunity for the U.S. Air Force."

For the exercise, Slovenian pilots were not only in their own aircraft, but also riding with Aviano F-16 pilots performing escort to give them a different perspective on conducting CSAR air support.

"CSAR missions are our normal daily missions, prepared in accordance to NATO procedures," said Slovenian Lt. Col. Igor Zalokar, 15th Brigade commander. "To know procedures and find appropriate place in the alliance, this exercise was important to us. We are a small army, but we are providing a well-equipped, well-trained force to NATO."

Slovenia became a NATO member this year, as well as a member of the European Union.

On the ground, Aviano CSAR instructors conducted joint ground survival, escape and evasion training. And the training, which took place during both the day and at night to intensify the training environment, was as real as it gets. The area is only about 200 miles from where Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady was shot down in 1995.

"It's a great sense of morale to us as we're flying in combat to know we're going to have people looking for us almost immediately if we're shot down or if we crash -- within hours," said Gundersen, who also participated in the exercise as an evader.

U.S. and Slovenians also had "specialty exchanges," where the teams shared operational methods.

Gundersen said a very important goal of this exercise was evaluating interoperability; not only between personnel, but also between systems of the NATO allies. "With all the training that the U.S. Air Force received with the Slovenian forces, we're going to get some great lessons learned from this exercise," he said.

(Air Force Capt. Nicholas J. Sabula is assigned to the Public Affairs Office of the 31st Fighter Wing.)

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