Barranquilla, Colombia –
Nearly 100 pilots and eight F-16 fighter jets from the 169th Fighter Wing of the South Carolina National Guard participated in Relampago VII, a joint Colombian and U.S. exercise that took place in Barranquilla, Colombia from August 26 to September 11, 2022. The exercise focused on training techniques, tactics, and procedures, and on enhancing interoperability between the U.S. and Colombian air forces as allies under NATO standards. Relampago VII included two partner nations and an integrated combat operability. South Carolina is Colombia’s state partner in the National Guard Office of the State Partnership Program and has been training with the Colombian military for 10 years.
Lieutenant Colonel David Way, pilot with 169The tenth Fighter Wing, participated in the previous Relampago drill. He said this year’s exercises were different in that they provided additional exercises over the ocean. Co-location between the Colombian and American pilots was critical to the success of this year’s exercise. For future Relampago exercises, Way hopes organizers will maintain “the ability to train together in the same location so we can briefly and debrief together.” This is an integral part of building relationships between the pilots of the two countries, Wai said.
Relampago was much more than just pilots learning tactics from each other, it’s about building a relationship with partners from another country. “Building the Rilambago exercise since 2012, certainly allows us to strengthen our partnership and lets us know that we are still allies and contribute to stability in this region,” said Major Rommel Rodriguez, commander of the 111th Fighter Squadron of the Colombian Air Force. Language can sometimes be a barrier, but Rodriguez said exercise isn’t just for pilots, it’s also for maintenance and support.
Colombian Air Force aircraft supervisors have closely watched their American counterparts for two weeks as they learn everything from ramp operations to safety equipment while facilitating a productive and comfortable stay for American pilots. “My job during these two weeks is to stay with them all the time, and do all the efforts so that they can complete the mission,” said Colombian Air Force Captain William Quintero, head of maintenance planning. Quintero was the Colombian Air Force’s liaison for SCANG maintenance personnel and expertly facilitated their stay at his base, preparing them for a successful two-week stay during exercise.
“The moment we showed up at the hangar, Captain Quintero would shake hands with us and bring us everything we needed,” said the senior sergeant. Wayne Bellman. “He made our mission, maintenance-wise, completely successful.” The task of keeping eight airborne combat aircraft when you’re away from home requires a great deal of planning, execution, and cooperation from partners like Colombia.
The relationship forged between the two countries over 10 years has been reinforced by exercise – by pilots learning to work together in the skies to defeat the enemy. But it was also reinforced by conversations about family, education, and shared food in the moments before and after the pre- and post-trip summaries. There was also a football match between the pilots of the two countries. These moments of engagement occurred between pilots, supervisors, security personnel, and even the public affairs specialist and his Colombian peers. Only history will tell, but the foundation is laid for the next ten years.
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