LASK AIR BASE, Poland — Airmen from the Wisconsin Air National Guard's 115th Fighter Wing were granted a rare opportunity to engage one on one with their Polish counterparts Aug. 27-Sept. 25, as part of U.S. Aviation Detachment Rotation 15-4 at Łask Air Base, Poland.
Hosted by the 52nd Operations Group, Detachment 1, the bilateral training event combined F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft and support personnel from the 115th Fighter Wing with those of the 52nd Fighter Wing from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, to train with allied forces from Poland's 6th and 10th Fighter Squadrons.
While the opportunity was a first for many of the Airmen, the close relationship between the Wisconsin Air National Guard and Polish air force is nothing new. Since 2013, members of the 115th Fighter Wing have been exchanging professional expertise related to F-16 aircraft operations with Poland's 10th Fighter Squadron through the National Guard State Partnership Program.
"One of the goals for this deployment, as well as for the SPP, is to provide tactical level opportunities to integrate maintenance techniques and procedures," said Maj. Jason Crabb, deployed maintenance commander for the 115th Fighter Wing. "Even before our aircraft arrived, [our maintenance personnel] were able to meet that objective for the Aviation-Detachment 15-4 rotation."
The 115th Fighter Wing's participation in the exercise was highlighted by numerous opportunities to integrate with their Polish allies. When aircraft parts availability was in question, the 10th Fighter Squadron provided their Wisconsin counterparts with a critical replacement component to assure repairs could be accomplished in a timely manner; camaraderie between weapons specialists of the 115th Fighter Wing and 10th Fighter Squadron culminated in a ground breaking weapons load competition; and joint weapons employment training included the first ever use of aerial laser targeting for guided munitions by a Polish F-16 pilot.
"I think the relationship we've established with our Polish allies continues to grow stronger each time we work together," said Lt. Col. Jon Kalberer, deployed commander of the 115th Fighter Wing. "Each work area built on a previously established foundation allowing us to begin Aviation-Detachment Rotation 15-4 right where we left off.
According to Kalberer the entire deployment to Łask Air Base exemplified the Aviation-Detachment motto, 'Stronger Together.'
Opportunities to strengthen international bonds were not limited to Łask Air Base, as the Wisconsin National Guard Airmen engaged in a cultural exchange with the students and faculty of nearby Gimnazjum NR 1 middle school in Konstantynów Łódzki. Tech. Sgt. Chariann Agee, the 115th Fighter Wing aviation resource manager, assisted Aviation-Detachment personnel to make the exchange possible. For Agee, the questions and eagerness displayed by the students truly punctuated the significance of the deployment.
By the end of Aviation-Detachment rotation 15-4, 115th Fighter Wing maintenance personnel had generated 100 aircraft sorties without a single maintenance cancellation, providing the unit's F-16 pilots more than 170 hours of joint air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. But for the Airmen involved, the true value of the training resided in whom they'd been training with.
"The Aviation-Detachment provided us a chance to see how our active duty counterparts and Polish allies do business, allowing us to evaluate the efficiency of our own practices," Crabb said. "It was a fantastic opportunity for growth."