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US, Greek forces complete bilateral flight training, build partnerships

Two F-15E Strike Eagles land at Souda Air Base, Greece, while participating in joint war-fighting training with the Hellenic air force, Feb. 27, 2014. More than 250 Airmen deployed to Crete to work with NATO partners and build upon a strong, military relationship. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Thomas Trower/Released)

Two F-15E Strike Eagles land at Souda Air Base, Greece, while participating in joint war-fighting training with the Hellenic air force, Feb. 27, 2014. More than 250 Airmen deployed to Crete to work with NATO partners and build upon a strong, military relationship. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Thomas Trower)

A 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron crew chief prepares an F-15E Strike Eagle for launch at Souda Air Base, Greece, during a flying training deployment with the Hellenic air force, Feb. 27, 2014. More than 250 Airmen deployed to Crete to work with NATO partners and build upon a strong military relationship. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Thomas Trower/Released)

A 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron crew chief prepares an F-15E Strike Eagle for launch at Souda Air Base, Greece, during a flying training deployment with the Hellenic air force, Feb. 27, 2014. More than 250 Airmen deployed to Crete to work with NATO partners and build upon a strong military relationship. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Thomas Trower)

Hellenic air force Chief Master Sgt. Siogkas Christos, aircrew life support, receives an F-15E Strike Eagle orientation tour from Staff Sgt. Trevor Wabel, 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron crew chief, at Souda Air Base, Greece, during a flying training deployment, Feb. 27, 2014. Military relations between the U.S. and Greece date back to the early 19th century, when Greece was fighting for independence, as the two nations found commonality under their values of freedom and democracy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Thomas Trower/Released)

Hellenic air force Chief Master Sgt. Siogkas Christos receives an F-15E Strike Eagle orientation tour from Staff Sgt. Trevor Wabel at Souda Air Base, Greece, during a flying training deployment, Feb. 27, 2014. Military relations between the U.S. and Greece date back to the early 19th century, when Greece was fighting for independence, as the two nations found commonality under their values of freedom and democracy. Christos works for aircrew life support and Wabel is a 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron crew chief. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Thomas Trower)

SOUDA AIR BASE, Greece (AFNS) -- U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles and Hellenic air force F-16s flew a combined 270 missions during two weeks of NATO training at Souda Air Base, Greece.

The 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, known as the Mighty Black Panthers, departed Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Feb. 13, to work alongside the pilots of the HAF's 343rd Squadron at the 115th Combat Wing on the Greek island of Crete.

"This has been a unique opportunity for us to exercise and evaluate our aircraft and personnel in a NATO training environment," said Lt. Col. Philip Principi, the 494th EFS commander. "We've been able to challenge ourselves daily during large-force exercises consisting of up to 30 aircraft -- six different air frames from four different bases."

Greek and U.S. military relations can be dated back to the early 19th century when Greece was fighting for their independence, as the two nations found commonality under their values of freedom and democracy. Today, those values are still at the heart of their missions.

"We've been able to share tactics, techniques and procedures in the planning, execution and debrief; which will continue to build the tactical partnership between our two countries," Principi said. "With key training opportunities like this one, we gain the experience of flying together, and we're better prepared to execute a successful, tactical game plan."

This is the first time in more than 10 years that the HAF has hosted a flying training deployment of this size. For Greek and U.S. pilots, working together brought new philosophies to the table, despite the language barrier and difference in aircraft.

"The U.S. Air Force has a lot of experience, and we can gain a lot of benefit," said HAF Capt. Nickolas Danias, a 343rd FS F-16 pilot. "In the beginning, it was hard. The eagle is huge; it turns different; but has similar capabilities, similar radar."

Bilateral training deployments like this one in Greece are planned in advance to strengthen military-to-military relationships and increase NATO interoperability.

"Training starts from the briefing," Danias said. "The (F-16) Block 52+ is multirole, just like the F-15. We try to show how we (F-16s) protect, while the Eagles strike."

While aircrew and aircraft were key to the overall mission, Airmen from the 48th Maintenance Group made up the majority of the 260 personnel on the U.S. side of training operations in Greece.

"Many of the maintainers on this trip have spent a great amount of time working in the back shops and providing tours of our aircraft and operations," said Capt. Timothy Aanerud, the 494th EFS maintenance officer-in-charge. "I believe these actions are paving the way for future maintainers to come to Souda Bay. The maintenance support provided by the HAF has been really awesome."

The 494th EFS' headquarters, the 48th Fighter Wing, also recently sent aircraft to participate in allied training or support air policing operations in Norway, Iceland, Lithuania and Spain.

"As NATO allies, our countries could be called upon at any time to project combat air power," Principi said. "This joint training is essential to our preparation should we ever need to respond.

While aircrew and aircraft were key to the overall mission, Airmen from the 48th Maintenance Group made up the majority of the 260 personnel on the U.S. side of training operations in Greece.

"Many of the maintainers on this trip have spent a great amount of time working in the back shops and providing tours of our aircraft and operations," said Capt. Timothy Aanerud, the 494th EFS maintenance officer-in-charge. "I believe these actions are paving the way for future maintainers to come to Souda Bay. The maintenance support provided by the HAF has been really awesome."

"As NATO allies, our countries could be called upon at any time to project combat air power," Principi said. "This joint training is essential to our preparation should we ever need to respond."

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