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Airmen train with NATO allies during exercise
Airmen train with NATO allies during exercise
POCEK, Slovenia -- Staff Sgt. James Davis (left) shows Slovenian Lt. Roskar Zelko (center) and Slovenian Maj. Ales Stimec how to use a Global Positioning System receiver during combat search-and-rescue training here Oct. 5. Sergeant Davis is a survival escape, resistance and evasion instructor at Aviano Air Base, Italy. American and Slovenian Airmen exchanged information concerning escape and evasion procedures during Adriatic Rescue '04, a U.S.-Slovenian combat search-and-rescue exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. John E. Lasky)
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by Capt. Nicholas Sabula
31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

10/7/2004 - POCEK, Slovenia (AFPN) -- Airmen from Aviano Air Base, Italy, joined forces with NATO’s newest member Oct. 4 to 7 to improve the way they rescue downed pilots.

The training was part of Adriatic Rescue 04, a U.S.-Slovenian combat search-and-rescue exercise.

While Slovenia conducted similar training with the United States before, this was the most comprehensive of its kind to date, involving multiple facets in the air and on the ground, exercise officials said.

“This training is important for improving the interoperability with our NATO allies,” said Col. Steve Schrader, 31st Operations Group commander from Aviano. “It’s going to greatly benefit both of our countries.”

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

Teams from Slovenia’s 15th and 1st Brigades worked both with and against Airmen 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.

“Our overall mission objective between our two countries is to deploy joint forces to Slovenia in support of air combat training as it relates to bilateral and NATO operations,” said Lt. Col. Dave Gundersen, 16th Air Force chief of current operations. “A key point we’re trying to get out of this exercise is how we can work together better in the future.”

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

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

Aviano sent F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from the 555th Fighter Squadron to escort Slovenian helicopters into the pickup zone. Slovenian PC-9M aircraft pilots in turn acted as aggressors and tried to shoot down the helicopters. F-16 pilots 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,” Colonel Gundersen said. “At the end of this exercise, we’ll have more of our pilots qualified fully in combat search and rescue, therefore a great opportunity for the U.S. Air Force.”

For the exercise, Slovenian pilots were not only in their aircraft, but also riding with Aviano F-16 pilots performing escort to give them a different perspective on 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 part of the alliance 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. Officials said the training, which took place during the day and at night to intensify the training environment, is at real as it gets; the area is about 200 miles from where 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,” said Colonel Gundersen, who also participated in the exercise.

Colonel Gundersen said a very important goal of this exercise was interoperability; not only among people, but among systems of the NATO allies.

“With all the training that the U.S. Air Force received with the Slovenian forces, we’re going to (learn) some great lessons … from this exercise,” he said. (Courtesy of U.S. Air Forces in Europe News Service)

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