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Texas, Washington Air National Guard participate in Brazilian-led international exercise

Two F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 149th Fighter Wing, Air National Guard, line the apron at Natal Air Force Base in Natal, Brazil, Nov. 16, 2018.

Two F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 149th Fighter Wing, Air National Guard, line the apron at Natal Air Force Base in Natal, Brazil, Nov. 16, 2018. Members of the 149th FW will be participating in exercise CRUZEX 2018, a multi-national combat air exercise, which was held Nov. 18-30. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Mindy Bloem)

Master Sgt. Jason Willis, assigned to the 149th Maintenance Group, Air National Guard, marshals an F-16 Fighting Falcon onto a Brazilian Air Force apron at Natal, Brazil, Nov. 16, 2018.

Master Sgt. Jason Willis, assigned to the 149th Maintenance Group, Air National Guard, marshals an F-16 Fighting Falcon onto a Brazilian Air Force apron at Natal, Brazil, Nov. 16, 2018. Members of the 149th Fighter Wing will be participating in exercise CRUZEX 2018, a multi-national combat air exercise, held Nov. 18 to 30. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Mindy Bloem)

NATAL, Brazil (AFNS) -- Brazil held its multinational air combat exercise CRUZEX VII Nov. 18-30, with participation from the U.S. and six other partner nations.

Guardsmen from the Texas and Washington Air National Guard joined the two-week long exercise and lent support by providing fighter and tanker aircraft as well as personnel from multiple Air Force job specialties.

The exercise fosters cooperation among nation partners while exchanging operational experiences in an effort to promote peace and security when responding to potential events around the world.

“Being able to understand how they operate with their search and rescue capabilities helps us during crisis,” said Tech. Sgt. Kyle Bryant, Washington Air National Guard, 141st Air Refueling Wing survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist. “It’s about building relationships, and it’s a good opportunity to work through a lot of the language barriers and terminology. That way we can be on the same page if and when we have to utilize that capability.”

CRUZEX incorporates simulated air-focused scenarios that prepare partner militaries for air operations aimed at employing missions with complementary objectives involving sweeps, escorts, strikes and air refuels.

“For me it is awesome flying somewhere that I’ve never been, with countries that I’ve never flown with, against airplanes I’ve never flown with, and just seeing everyone come together to participate in a large-force exercise,” said Maj. Weston Killian, 149th Fighter Wing F-16 pilot. “It was cool to come together and listen to the way they do things and plan things, and they are very interested to learn from us also, see how we do things and get better as we work together as a team.”

Ground crews like the joint tactical air controllers also get to hone their skills as they establish tactics, techniques and procedures with other JTACs from countries like France, Portugal and Brazil.

“The goal is to work together, to train on how to properly and more efficiently call in close air support in a combat situation, said Tech. Sgt. Matt Renteria, a 147th Attack Wing JTAC. “Riding on the planes, calling in the air strikes together, it makes the learning that much easier because you’ve already built a rapport. There is trust and you know each other, and that just works really well on a training level.”

Since promoting strong defense relationships is crucial to addressing challenges to democratic principles, the participants said they see this exercise as foundational to protecting basic human freedoms across the globe.

“It shows the National Guard is engaged, not just at the United States level but at an international affairs level, “ said Lt. Col. Peter Keegan, New York National Guard J3 civil support operations deputy director. “It’s important for both the Brazilians and the U.S., training along with coalition partners so that when there is an actual international emergency, we are not meeting for the first time during the event.”

New York’s National Guard members and service members from Brazil officially became partners in June under the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program, a program that links a state’s National Guard with another country’s military and conducts military-to-military, military-to-civilian and civilian to civilian exchanges.

Keegan believes relationship building is the key to promoting quicker disaster response and used the earthquake in Haiti several years ago as just one example. According to Keegan, two primary leaders for that response, a U.S. general and a Brazilian general, had formerly attended a military school together and had become fast friends. The byproduct of that previously established friendship was a more seamless response effort during the crisis.

“They were able to work together in lockstep because of that friendship,” Keegan said. “These types of events are priceless for familiarization and understanding of each other’s capabilities.”

One of the boasting points of CRUZEX is that the air exchange among partner nations increases interoperability, but it also supports military readiness according to Lt. Col. Sarah Johnson, 149th Maintenance Group commander in charge during CRUZEX.

“It exercises our pack-up-and-get-out-of-town mentality and then operate in unfamiliar territory,” Johnson said. “It plans for our supply readiness, what parts do we typically need and helps us understand what do we do next time, so it builds greater expectations, greater lessons learned for our next operational objective.”

Participants also acknowledge the valuable role these collaborative exercises play in relationship building. Military members are able to form new friendships and continue ones long established.

One example of this is the camaraderie shared between the Chilean Air Force pilots and the 149th FW pilots. The Chileans are the 149th FW’s state partners under the Guard’s SPP, and both organizations have taken turns hosting each other for events at their respective bases.

“I’ve seen some of them on their visits to San Antonio, and they recognize a lot of us from the exercises we’ve done with them,” said Killian. “We’ve built some friendships with the Chilean F-16 pilots over the years, so it’s almost like flying with guys in the squadron, and their English is very good. It’s been a really good experience.”

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