U.S., French pilots swap, meet up on first deployment

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Melissa B. White
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
An Air Force pilot traded places with a French air force pilot and now both are serving here on their first deployments with their new units.

"I never thought we'd be here at the same time, especially on our first deployments," said Maj. Skyler Hester, an instructor pilot currently assigned to the French 1/3 Fighter Squadron. "We're doing great things out here, supporting the ongoing missions, and I'm hearing that they've absorbed him pretty well in his new squadron."

Major Hester, originally an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, is now operating the French air force's Mirage 2000D . He took the place of French air force Maj. Yann Malard, who is now with the 75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron currently deployed from Moody, Air Force Base, Ga., flying the A-10C Thunderbolt II. Both made the swap under the foreign exchange pilot program.

"We do this so we can learn how our partner nations execute the mission with the similarities and differences we have," Major Hester said . "We fight the same war, we do it in the same places and we just absorb and learn how they operate and overcome challenges. It formulates bonds between the countries."

The pilots arrived Afghanistan within two weeks of each other. However, there is a major difference between the two assignments: Major Malard is here with his unit for six months, whereas Major Hester's unit is here for two months.

"It's nice being out here for only two months, but these guys come out here more frequently than the American units," Major Hester said. "However, with the longer deployments you get more familiarization with the mission and area and more of an experience, but it adds to the cost our families pay."

Major Malard is flying the A-10, which is known for its maneuverability at low speeds and low altitudes to provide close-air support for troops in contact.

"The A-10 is a fantastic aircraft," Major Malard said. "It's a lot slower than the Mirage, but the good thing is that you're able to work lower and feel closer to the guys on the ground. It's really important for us to have that connection with the ground forces."

This deployment, however, isn't their first run-in with each other. When Major Hester first arrived at his assignment in France, Major Malard was still there.

"Before he left, we ran a mission together but in separate aircraft and we fought basic fighter movements against each other," Major Hester said. "He seems like he'd be a great A-10 guy."

The pilots have developed relationships and learned more about the new cultures that constantly surround them.

"I like working with the Americans and sharing their culture," Major Malard said. "9/11 had a huge impact in France too, and we have been close to the U.S. Us working together like this is proof that two countries can be so close together. I also appreciate the way the squadron and their wives have accepted and helped me and my family."

With the constant demand for close-air support throughout Afghanistan, there's no telling when and if these two pass each other in the sky again.

"It's an amazing feeling to be supporting our ground troops," Major Malard said. "It's the same way I felt when I was flying the Mirage ... and the French, Italian, German or anyone else probably feel the same way. I'm glad to be there to help when the ground forces need it the most."