UTANG trains with NATO allies in Geilenkirchen Germany
By Staff Sgt. Annie Edwards, 151 ARW/PA
/ Published June 09, 2014
NATO AIR BASE GEILENKIRCHEN, Germany -- Three air crews and several maintenance personnel from the Utah Air National Guard provided crucial air refueling support during training flights for NATO E-3A pilots here April 28- May 8.
E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft are currently conducting surveillance operations over Poland and Romania to monitor activities in the surrounding areas for NATO commands and to provide reassurance to NATO allies in the area.
"We do all the training at this air base to get the pilots qualified and maintain their currency before they head out to those real-world missions," said Tech. Sgt. Santiago Avila, a boom operator with the 191st Air Refueling Squadron.
The AWACS fly surveillance missions, which can last 10 hours or longer, daily over Romania and every other day over Poland.
Air refueling is essential to keep the AWACS in the air during these extended operations, said Commander Gunther Bauer, a German Navy Commander serving as a mission commander in the NATO E-3A Component.
"Air National Guard support helps us to provide the mission and to do our task, and we receive very valuable training during that mission and it gives us a daily opportunity to exercise and utilize AR (air refueling)," said Bauer.
Working with the NATO E-3A component provided the Guardsmen the opportunity to train with aircrew from a multinational force with members from 16 different countries.
One challenge the aircrew faced while flying with the international pilots was the language barrier, said Maj. Mike Flocco, an instructor pilot with the 191st. Although English is the international language for aviation, sometimes communication can be difficult, he said.
"We need to be very clear and concise when we are air refueling because it can be a very dangerous operation otherwise," said Flocco.
Staff Sgt. Patricia Rich, a boom operator with the 191st, said the best part of the training flights was the challenge of working with receiver pilots with less training and experience. This provided a great opportunity to improve and test her skills, she said.
The maintenance group ensured the aircraft were refueled, inspected and ready for flight. Crew chiefs and personnel from several sections, including hydraulics, electrical, communication and navigation, guidance and control, engine shop, and supply, were ready to take care of any maintenance issues.
"In case one of the planes does break, we have the specialists here to be able to fix it, to keep the airplanes in the air and get the training with the AWACS," said Senior Master Sgt. Steve Martin, a maintenance operation controller with the 151st Air Refueling Wing.
Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Bollschweiler, an avionics guidance and control technician with the 151st, said working on the NATO Air Base provided valuable training for the maintenance personnel because they had to be able to adapt to overcome the challenges of language barriers and different facilities.
"We get away from home where there is a lot we're used to, having our own toolboxes ready, having our supply system set up in the warehouse, and we kind of have to operate on a limited basis as far as tools and equipment," said Bollschweiler.
The Utah Air National Guard mission here attracted the interest of the German civilian media. Journalists from Jet & Prop magazine, German television and German public radio, highlighted the importance of the ANG training in the success of the real-world missions here.