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U.S. air advisors reach milestone with Colombian air force

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Matthew Hannen
  • 621st Contingency Response Wing Public Affairs
Members of the 571st Mobility Support Advisory Squadron (MSAS), from Travis Air Force Base, finalized their training with members of the Colombian air force while observing their performance of an airdrop mission near Bogota, Colombia, March 4, 2015.

The successful air drop concluded a month-long Air Mobility Command Building Partner Capacity mission (BPC). The mission of BPC is to build stronger international air force cooperation, interoperability and mutual support in coordination with the 12th Air Force's (Air Forces Southern) continued engagements in the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The 571st MSAS pilot and loadmaster instructors observed five Colombian parachute jumpers and two pallets successfully land within the recommended target range during two passes in a Colombian air force Casa 295 aircraft. This successful airdrop concluded a monthlong Air Mobility Command building partner capacity mission.

According to U.S. Air Force Maj. Justin Allen, 571st MSAS Colombia mission commander, this was the first airdrop mission where 571st MSAS instructors were allowed to go on the aircraft and fly with the Colombians.

"In the past, we taught classes, set up an exercise and then let them go execute the mission," Allen said. "That is very similar to simply telling someone how to drive a car, then giving them the keys and saying ‘all right go at it.’ Again, we don't know what we don't know until we sit there and watch them. Just as they don't know what they don't know until we tell them. As observers, we can't see what happens inside the aircraft until we get to fly with them. The air observer piece was extremely important and very beneficial to our understanding of how they conduct their operations and what areas can be improved."

The MSAS Airmen have been teaching seminars and advising the Colombian air force twice a year since August of 2012, but until recently, the Colombian air force had little experience in airdrop procedures. In the last six months, the Columbian airmen have been able to leverage more airdrop missions and have been able to conduct the operations safely and successfully.

"Prior to this, they (the Colombians) didn't have any airdrop missions other than when we visited and prepared a training mission for them," Allen said.

Colombia is a very large country with few roads and the military operates about 12 bases throughout the country. Smaller countries in the region use helicopters as their primary means of transporting people and cargo. Helicopters cannot carry enough cargo, nor do they travel fast enough, so they are not the preferred method of military transport in Columbia. Currently, Columbia is battling the transnational criminal organizations, their war against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia-People’s Army and their war on drugs.

"Our efforts here are specifically helping them to conduct airdrop operations that will allow them to resupply troops and forward operating bases throughout the country," Allen said. "They can resupply those troops with additional personnel if needed."

Staff Sgt. Peter Salinas, an airdrop and rigging instructor in Colombia, has been on five 571st MSAS trips and has taught 30 students.

"I would say this drop went very, very well," Salinas said. "The success was a collaboration of the navigators, pilots, loadmasters and jumpers. They went from not being able to airdrop and now they can airdrop container delivery system bundles. We are still taking baby steps in order for them to get completely proficient and effective in the airdrop, but we are happy with their progress."

According to Salinas, there are still steps needed to increase the capability of the Columbian air force.

"We only come in for four weeks at a time, twice a year, and they don't get a lot of airdrop experience in between those seminars," Allen said. "They can only get certain airdrop operations and we are trying to raise that level of excellence. Some of their procedures and some of the things they are doing, it is just lack of experience, but it is not a lack of motivation or will. These guys are super energetic and they really want to learn how to get the mission done."

Another measure of success is the fact that the Colombian airmen are taking the knowledge the 571st MSAS has taught them on airdrop and rigging procedures and have gone to additional exercises in South America to train others.

"They are definitely taking the skills that we are teaching and they are providing training for other countries," Allen said. "They are providing airmanship, airdrop, maintenance and other skill sets to other countries."