CASLAV, Czech Republic — Airmen from the 149th Fighter Wing at Joint Base San Antonio-Texas, as well as from units from Houston and Nebraska deployed with fighter and tanker aircraft and various other support equipment to participate in the bi-national air exercise Sky Avenger, held June 18 through 28.
The exercise is part of a long-term partnership with members of the Czech air force and Texas and Nebraska Air National Guard members. This unique partnership falls under the State Partnership Program, a National Guard Bureau program that links a state’s National Guard with a partner nation’s military and conducts military-to-military exchanges.
“This training gives the United States and the Czech military a great opportunity to integrate together in order to become better as a group – The United States, Czech and NATO,” said Lt. Col. Sean Penrod, an F-16 instructor pilot assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing. “It’s a great opportunity to share some tactics, techniques and procedures with one another and also provides an opportunity to get to know one another – to strengthen our relationships as we progress forward.”
When the State Partnership Program first formed, its main goal was to help members of the Czech military integrate into NATO. Since then, the partner countries have taken turns hosting events at their respective bases as a way to share mutually beneficial ideas and best practices. This year marks the 25th anniversary of that partnership.
“This interaction has helped the Czech air force to become the proven member of NATO’s Air Power, said Col. Petr Tománek, commander of the 21st Air Force Base at Čáslav. “The Sky Avenger 2018 exercise is a great example of such cooperation and its benefits. The exercise has given the opportunity to learn new skills –combat tactics, maintenance, logistics support, force protection are a few examples.
During the exercise, members from the 149th FW, a San Antonio-based unit, incorporated complex scenarios into their air missions that involved in-flight refueling support from the 155th Air Refueling Wing, a Nebraska-based unit, and support from the 147th Attack Wing, a Houston-based unit, which provided Joint Tactical Attack Controllers for various exchanges conducted during the exercise.
“The partnership that we enjoy with the Czech Armed Forces is built on mutual trust and shared cooperation that spans 25 years,” said Col. John Williams, commander of the 155th ARW, Nebraska Air National Guard. “That’s what makes our bilateral cooperation so unique. Our personal relationships are the underlying reason for the success of the program. it’s not about teaching or training. It’s about cooperating to achieve better results than we could achieve alone.
One of the program’s main goals is to promote international security but it also encourages people-to-people ties at the state level, an aspect that one senior noncommissioned officer has noticed helps to make his airmen more well-rounded.
“A lot of these younger troops have not been here, and some of them have never left their state or the country,” said Senior Master Sgt. Donald Yedlicka, a 149th FW member assigned to the 149th Maintenance Group. “It’s been interesting to let them come to Europe, interact with Europeans to see different cultures, listen to a different language, spend different currency, see how people live here and then try to learn about them socially. It’s been very enriching for these younger troops.”
For those personally involved in these interpersonal exchanges, that face time is the heart of the program.
“It’s the communication,” said 1st Lt. Jan Brzon. “I get to speak with new people. I get to do new stuff. I get to make new friends. That’s probably the best part for me. It’s not about work so much. I’m sorry. I should probably say that, but no, it’s about the people and learning something new.”