Romanian pilot returns favor, bridges gap in joint exercise

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jamie Humphries
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
All his life he dreamed of being a pilot. Growing up near an air base, he always hoped he too would be able to take to the sky like so many pilots he saw day after day.

That dream became a reality in 2001 when 1st Lt. Mihaita Marin began to fly. He started his journey toward flight in 1999 when he was selected to enter the Romanian Air Force Academy in Brasov.

Studying hard, he excelled at his craft and in 2004 -- a day that changed his life forever -- Lieutenant Marin earned his Air Force wings.

What the Urziceni native didn't know is the next year he'd be taking on a new mission, one in which only one Romanian pilot is selected for every two years.

"I was selected to go to the states and enter the Aviation Leadership Program," Lieutenant Marin said.

The program would last one year and give the lieutenant an opportunity to live and train next to up-and-coming American pilots.

His training started in San Antonio, where he attended the Defense Language Institute for the first nine weeks. For some the class may seem daunting, but to Lieutenant Marin it was a piece of cake.

"(The class) was not too difficult," he said. "It helped me get familiarized with southern accents. I also met a Romanian living in San Antonio who showed me everything and made it easy."

The next leg of his journey would take him to Columbus, Miss., where he lived and trained until 2006. He entered a 24-person class and lived in dorms on the base. Strangely enough, Lieutenant Marin was one of the students with the most flight experience.

Oddly enough for the lieutenant, the communication barrier was more difficult than the training.

"(The) training was not difficult as I had experience before in Romania," he said. "It was a tough transition though and overall a tough program."

Although Lieutenant Marin was excelling in his training, becoming homesick started to take its toll. After training he sometimes stayed in his dorm room all evening thinking about home and his fiance.

"I left my fiance in Romania, so it was difficult, but she came for Easter and Christmas," Lieutenant Marin said. "I had periods of homesickness, but that's normal. My friends (from class) forced me to have fun."

Making friends in school helped him along the way and flying more and more helped him stay focused.

After completion of his training he was assigned to the 86th Air base near Fetesti, Romania, to fly MiG-21s. He began to help other flyers with the training he'd received. He also said the structure he had in an American classroom was a huge asset. Although he doesn't get as many hours in the MiG as he did in the states, the hours he got while in Columbus were immeasurable.

His training and experience is now paying off for U.S. forces in Romania during Sniper Lance 2007. He's assisting with planning and execution of missions and also brings a wealth of knowledge from both Air Forces' perspectives. He also worked alongside American pilots during last year's exercise Viper Lance as well.

"Foreign exchange programs are vital to ensuring our future interoperability and success," said Lt. Col. Craig Wills, 493rd Fighter Squadron commander, from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. "We welcome the opportunity to train with and learn from our Romanian counterparts."

The 25-year-old looks back at his experience in the states with positive memories of friends and flight. 

"I definitely enjoyed it (training in America) a lot. I went in a little scared. But, at the end of the year I had tears in my eyes about coming home," he said. 

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