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Romanian airmen visit Sheppard AFB as global bonds fly high

Members of the Romanian air force visited Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, July 8, 2014, to gain knowledge of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program. The visit was meant to establish international bonds and potential joint training ventures. (U.S. Air Force photos/Airman 1st Class Jelani Gibson)

Members of the Romanian air force visited Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, July 8, 2014, to gain knowledge of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program. The visit was meant to establish international bonds and potential joint training ventures. (U.S. Air Force photos/Airman 1st Class Jelani Gibson)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- A Romanian air force delegation toured here July 8-11, to gain knowledge of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program, or ENJJPT.

The visit was intended to establish international bonds and potential joint training ventures.

The four-member Romanian delegation was accompanied by Col. Glen Lawson, from the Office of Defense Cooperation, U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, Romania. During his career, Lawson was assigned to Sheppard Air Force Base for five years as a student and a T-37 instructor pilot.

Now in his second year at his current assignment, he saw an opportunity to merge his knowledge of ENJJPT with the future needs of the Romanian Air Force.

"The Romanian Air Force is a great ally to the United States and part of the NATO alliance,” Lawson said. “With an interest in upgrading their aircraft, they purchased twelve F-16s, scheduled to be delivered in 2016-2017.”

"This visit gives us an opportunity to highlight our world-class training program and show how we can meet the Romanian Air Force's needs for trained fighter pilots and maintainers," said Col. Lance Bunch, the 80th Fighter Wing commander. "The community has already played an instrumental role in showing the incredible support the base receives from community leaders and neighbors. They have fully embraced this Romanian team."

Lawson emphasized the natural progression of the U.S. involvement with Romania's air force leading to the ENJJPT program, which has produced more than 6,800 NATO pilots since 1981.

"Since the Romanian air force is already familiar with the F-16 Fighting Falcon and C-130 (Hercules) aircraft, when they get the F-16s they'll be part of that combined alliance that can react and take action with the rest of the NATO partners," Lawson said. "This year, U.S. F-16s and Canadian F-18s have been flying in central Romania at Campia Turzii. Later this fall, the Homestead Air Base Reserve unit is planning on flying F-16s during military exercises."

Col. Alexandru Trandafir, the Romanian air force staff chief of training, said he was highly impressed with everything the base has to offer.

"This is world class training, if not the best in the world,” he said. “The community support is absolutely amazing. I'm really impressed about the commitment and dedication of the people here."

Amid the unique mission of ENJJPT, which trains 200 student pilots and 75 instructor pilots from 13 NATO nations a year, Bunch values the strategic significance of establishing such a close relationship with his Romanian aviation counterparts.

"The concept is, not only are we the premiere fighter training program, but we build the coalition and relationships in the NATO alliance," he said. "The partnership can only strengthen us as this small Baltic nation is already part of the NATO strategy."

The visit could culminate in Romania joining the ENJJPT partnership -- the first partner to do so since Spain joined in 1995. Further discussions will occur during the next ENJJPT Steering Committee scheduled in Izmir, Turkey, this September.

(Debi Smith, 80th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this article.)

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