Air Guard Aircraft Impress Crowds in South Africa
By Staff Sgt. John Gassler, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
PRETORIA, South Africa, Sep. 29, 2004 They were daunted by the size of the C-5 Galaxy transport and KC-135 Stratotanker and mesmerized by the sleek, bold designs of the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter and F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Members of the 174th Fighter Wing from Syracuse, N.Y., load
their aircraft on a C-5 Galaxy in preparation for a return flight home to the
United States after a weeklong participation at the South African Aerospace
Exhibition at Waterkloof Air Force Base, Pretoria. Photo by Sgt. Matthew
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
So it was easy for crowds of children and military enthusiasts to swarm to members of the New York Air National Guard showcasing their aircraft for the first time at the South African Aerospace Exhibition at Waterkloof Air Force Base here Sept. 25.
"People at the air show couldn't get enough of our aircraft, aircrews or maintainers, and we couldn't get enough of them," said Maj. Jody Ankabrandt, New York Air National Guard public affairs officer. "Words can't express how much we enjoyed being here in Pretoria, representing the Air Force, New York and the Air National Guard. It was a cultural learning experience we'll never forget."
South of the equator, some 7,800 miles from home, four U.S aircraft along with their crews sat among an assortment of fighter jets and cargo transport planes from around the world. Biplanes performed aerial acrobatics. Parachutists jumped from the sky and hovered to the ground waving South African flags. And for New Yorkers and South Africans alike, the event was a memorable experience.
"The minute we arrived, I was overwhelmed by the support and hospitality of the South African people," said Maj. Tim Morgan, C-5 aircraft commander from the 105th Airlift Wing in Newburgh, N.Y. "At the air show, everyone asked us questions about our jobs and the C-5. A number of people requested autographs on T-shirts and hats, or wanted us to take pictures with them by the aircraft. Supportwise, anything we needed we received. It was a great time," he said.
From a South African point of view, Monty Mashu from Centurion Lake offered his perspective. "Everyone from New York at the air show made me feel welcome," he said. "When I had questions, they were answered with kindness and professionalism. Even my son, Habbitt, 20, who came with me now wants to be a fighter pilot. I told him to keep studying his math, then maybe he can fly a plane."
The air show, largest on the African continent, was open to the public Sept. 24-25 and attracted more than 200,000 spectators. Everyone from the oldest aviation aficionado to the youngest toddler couldn't spend enough time with, or snap enough pictures of, the 40-plus aircrew members and maintenance personnel from New York.
"I spoke to so many people while giving walk-around tours of our F-16 that I nearly lost my voice," said Maj. Elmer Lunderman, an F-16 instructor pilot from the 174th Fighter Wing in Syracuse, N.Y. "But talking to the kids and seeing their smiles was worth it. I think as a state we made a great impression, and hopefully we'll be back," he added.
New York's representation at the South African aerospace exhibition was made possible through the State Partnership Program, a National Guard initiative that aligns American states with countries around the world. The SPP encourages the development of economic, political and military ties between U.S. states and partner nations.
"The New York National Guard is deeply committed to its relationship with South Africa," said Maj. Richard Sloma, New York State Partnership Program coordinator. "It's an opportunity for our airmen to participate in exciting events, share cultural experiences and interact with their South African National Defense colleagues. It's our intention to maintain a robust program of bilateral visits in the future."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. John Gassler is assigned to New York Air National Guard public affairs.)