Mirgorod Air Base, Ukraine – More than 140 members of the Air National Guard landed aircraft in Ukraine, preparing for a US European Command sponsored aerial military-to-military exchange event titled SAFE SKIES 2011.
A rainbow unit of Air National Guard Airmen comprised of members from Alabama, California, Washington and Massachusetts flew into a base that until July 15 had only seen use by Mig-29s and Su-27s. Following the advance teams of maintenance and support personnel, seven F-16Cs from Alabama and Iowa cut through the calm, blue Ukrainian sky. The F-16Cs were among the first American fighter jets to ever touchdown in this former Soviet-bloc country.
These National Guard Airmen are part of the State Partnership program which will play a major role in SAFE SKIES 2011, a joint US, Ukraine and Polish event where by the Air National Guard pilots will fly engagements with Ukrainian Su-27, Mig-29s and Polish F-16s on Air Sovereignty operations in preparation for the 2012 Olympics and 2012 EUROCup and 2014 Winter Games in Europe. This event is co-sponsored by US European Command, with an overall goal of promoting and enhancing multinational cooperation in an effort to promote airspace security.
“Working together with the Ukrainian and Polish Air Forces is important to US interests, in that it helps promote regional stability,” said Lt. Col. Robert Swertfager, SAFE SKIES 2011 Project Officer and F-16 pilot from the 144th Fighter Wing, California Air National Guard. “This event increases our collective capacity to address common security challenges.”
The foundation for the event is the National Guard State Partnership Program. The California National Guard is state partners with Ukraine, and the Illinois National Guard is partners with Poland. These partnerships have led the way over the past 6 years, developing relationships that allow for this massive collaborative effort.
After two years of planning, the fighters landed on July 16, with crowds of Ukrainian Air Force members watching as the Mirgorod Air Base ramp began to be filled with US fighter aircraft.
The effort to bring American fighters to the Ukraine was carefully coordinated by the guardsmen, ensuring they traveled with the right tools to fix these jets, with limited shared resources available from the Ukrainians.
Lt. Gen. Vasyl Nikiforov, Deputy Commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, voiced his gratitude for the US cooperation as he officiated a Ukrainian custom of sharing bread with the pilots as they landed. He said through translation that he was very excited to have his pilots fly with the US Air Force and looks forward to a successful exchange.