More than 150 US Air National Guardsmen from the 187th Fighter Wing, the Alabama Air National Guard unit at Dannelly Field ANGB in Montgomery, deployed to Romania in August to participate in Dacian Viper 2012, a three-week joint exercise with the Romanian Air Force.
The Guard contingent, which included nearly twenty fighter pilots and eight F-16s, exercised with approximately 200 Romanian soldiers, technical staff, and pilots flying six MiG-21 Lancers at 71st Air Base, located near the town of Câmpia Turzii in the northwestern part of Romania.
The Alabama National Guard has had a relationship with Romania since 1994 as part of the State Partnership Program. This wide-ranging program pairs Guard units with sixty-five different nations to improve both military and civil understanding and cooperation. Romania subsequently became a member country of NATO in 2004. Because of the longstanding relationship between the Romanian Air Force and the Alabama National Guard, the 187th Fighter Wing was a natural choice for the exercise.
“Our wing has to be able to deploy our F-16 aircraft anywhere in the world and on short notice in defense of our nation's interest,” explained Col. Samuel Black, commander of the 187th Fighter Wing. “To do that, everyone in our wing has to work together in a closely coordinated way with each other and with other organizations. For Dacian Viper, we demonstrated that we can safely transport our people, planes, and equipment to a theater of operations more than 5,500 miles away.”
Once in Romania, the unit participated in training flights to enhance interoperability with NATO allies. “While we learn lessons from every trip, this trip went very smoothly,” said Black. “We've deployed many times over the years for training and combat operations, so this was a chance to keep our skills and processes sharp.”
The flying portion of Dacian Viper enhanced the tactical skills of the US and Romanian fighter pilots by providing an opportunity to perform common flight and training activities. The aerial missions also allowed for an exchange of experience on tactics, techniques, and procedures for basic fighter maneuvers, air combat maneuvers, intelligence, tactical command, and cross service logistics support.
“We always welcome opportunities for our pilots to experience new environments,” said Guard Lt. Col. William Sparrow, commander of the 100th Fighter Squadron. “Participating in Dacian Viper provided our younger pilots with some great opportunities they would not ordinarily have here at home. Operating in an unfamiliar airspace, including taking off and landing in any place other than home station, makes our pilots better and stronger. The deployment undoubtedly enhanced our warfighting capability.”
The final days of the exercise focused on combined air operations, in which US forces partnered with Romania pilots to exercise common air operations procedures. “Both units benefitted from the joint training,” added Sparrow. “Exercises like Dacian Viper improve the integration between our nations. We were impressed with the proficiency and capabilities of the Romanian pilots. They are a lot like us.”
During the exercise, 100th Fighter Squadron pilots were allowed to fly in the back seat of the MiG-21s and Romanian fighter pilots were allowed to fly in the back seat of the F-16s.
Lt. Col. Ryan Barker, the project officer for the deployment for the 100th, received one of those backseat rides. “The Romanian Air Force has taken the MiG-21 as far as that aircraft can go technologically,” Barker said. “They have done a great job doing everything in their power to remain relevant and act as key players in any NATO air plan. Their pilots have attended the Tactical Leadership Program in a non-flying status. Their air force is also actively seeking other venues to enhance their tactical knowledge and expertise. Dacian Viper was just such a venue.”
“We had a very productive trip, both in terms of the training gained and the personal relationships formed or strengthened,” added Black. “We have a great appreciation for the abilities of the Romanian Air Force. I believe they were able to see some of the strengths we bring to the table as an Air National Guard unit. They were particularly impressed with the maturity, professionalism, and technical expertise we have in the Guard because of the long tenure of our Airmen relative to active duty forces.”
Maj. Clare Reed is the public affairs officer for the 187th Fighter Wing.