Rionegro, Colombia --
The South Carolina Air National Guard trained with their State Partnership Program counterparts, the Colombian Air Force, during exercise Relámpago 4. This is the third time SCANG F-16s have gone to Rionegro, Colombia to fly with the Colombian Air Force. Some of the missions they practiced include Air Combat Maneuver, Opposed Surface Attack Tactics, Defensive Counter Air, and Combat Search and Rescue.
More than 60 U.S. Airmen and four F-16C Fighting Falcon fighter jet aircraft from the 169th Fighter Wing, McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, participated in the weeklong Relámpago 4 exercise. The exercise has allowed individual members of both air forces to develop lasting—family-like—relationships that go on long after the visit is over.
“When you come here, you become great friends with your counterparts in the Colombian Air Force,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Andrew “Tank” Thorne, the 169th Fighter Wing deputy base wing commander. “And it’s now such that we exchange Christmas cards, birthdays—that’s one of the great benefits of the State Partnership Program is these long-lasting relationships, not just what happens during these TDYs but continue long afterward.”
Striking a similar tone, KFIR fighter pilot and commander of the Colombian Air Force’s 111th Combat Squadron, Maj. Andres “Skyfire” Galvis says, “We think the Colombian Air Force and the Swamp Foxes of the United States Air Force—we are doing a very good partnership, also a friendship for many, many years.”
The biggest takeaway from the exercise for Thorne is that the Colombian pilots are “very, very skilled aviators in what they do and it is humbling to be able to participate in an exercise such as Relámpago.” Flying with the Swamp Fox pilots during the exercise gives Galvis confidence that the Colombian Air Force has become “more lethal” and can “fight together as a team with any squadron of the United States Air Force.”
In a show of both friendship and familiarization, Galvis was given a flight in the F-16D Fighting Falcon fighter jet. “It was one of my dreams come true today,” said Galvis, “when I was young, it was my dream to fly the Viper.” Thorne piloted the F-16 and allowed Galvis to personally experience the power and capability of the Viper aircraft he usually only witnesses from the cockpit of his KFIR. “It was an incredible flight," said Galvis. “I had the opportunity to turn by my hand—put the power, so I felt the difference—I felt the power in my hands.”
Clearly wanting to continue the relationship, Galvin’s final words for his Swamp Fox friends was, “We expect the Swamp Fox for Relámpago five, six, seven, eight, nine and so on.”
The SPP between the state of South Carolina and the Republic of Colombia formally commenced with a proclamation signing on July 23, 2012. Governor Nikki Haley and Colombian Vice-Minister of Defense Jorge Enrique Bedoya signed the partnership proclamation in Columbia, South Carolina. Since that time, Colombia and the SCNG have participated in numerous joint exercises, key leader engagements and personnel exchanges to forge long term relationships as well as to strengthen areas of mutual interest, shared values and responsibilities for both partners. The SPP between Colombia and the SCNG falls within U.S. Southern Command’s area of responsibility.
Priorities for the Colombia-South Carolina state partnership include helping the Colombian military establish a maintenance culture and a fixed-base maintenance system, assisting the Colombian military transition from a war-time military to a peace-time military, and helping the Republic of Colombia develop an operational reserve force.
Training with the Colombians is beneficial to both the SCANG and the Colombians above the obvious goal of increasing interoperability. As Thorne points out, “It sends a message to America’s allies that we are willing to stand shoulder with them in their country.” Thorne’s emphasis mirrors the goal of South Carolina’s partnership with Colombia and echoes the words of U.S. Southern Command’s Commander, Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller: “Pushing back against China and Russia in South America requires the United States to focus on what it does best there already: partnership building.