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South Carolina Air National Guard wraps up exercise Relampago VII in Colombia

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Carl Clegg
  • 169th FW Public Affairs

Approximately 100 Airmen and eight F-16 fighter jets from the South Carolina Air National Guard’s 169th Fighter Wing participated in Relampago VII, a combined Colombian and U.S. exercise which took place in Barranquilla, Colombia Aug. 26 to Sept. 11, 2022. The military exercise focused on training techniques, tactics and procedures, and strengthening interoperability between the U.S. and Colombian air forces as allies under NATO standards. Relampago VII included two partner nations and integrated combat interoperability. South Carolina is Colombia’s State Partner in the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program and has been training with the Colombian military for 10 years. 

Lt. Col. David Way, a pilot with the 169th Fighter Wing, has participated in previous Relampago exercises. He said this year’s exercise was different in that it offered additional training over the ocean. Important to the success of this year’s exercise was the co-location of the Colombian and U.S. pilots. For future Relampago exercises, Way hopes the organizers will, “keep the ability to train together in the same location so we can brief and debrief together.” Way said this is integral to relationship building between the two nation’s pilots.

Relampago was much more than just pilots learning tactics from each other, it’s about building a relationship with partners from another country. Maj. Rommel Rodriguez, Colombian Air Force’s 111th Fighter Squadron commander said, “Building the Relampago exercise since 2012, for sure lets us strengthen our partnership and lets us know that we are still allies and contributing to the stability in this region.” The language can sometimes be a barrier but Rodriguez said the exercise is not just for the pilots, it is also for maintenance and support. 

The Colombian Air Forces’ aircraft maintainers observed their U.S. counterparts closely during their two weeks together learning everything from ramp operations to safety equipment while at the same time facilitating a productive and comfortable stay for the U.S. Airmen. “My mission these two weeks is to stay all the time with them, to do all the efforts so they can complete the mission,” said Colombian Air Force Capt. William Quintero, maintenance planning chief. Quintero was the Colombian Air Force liaison for the SCANG’s maintenance personnel and expertly facilitated their stay at his base, setting them up for a successful two week stay during the exercise.  

“The moment we showed up at the hangar, Capt. Quintero was open handshake and getting us everything we needed,” said Chief Master Sgt. Wayne Peelman. “He has made our mission, from the maintenance side, completely successful.” The mission of keeping eight fighter jets airworthy when you are far from home requires a great deal of planning, execution and cooperation from partners like Colombia. 

The relationship built between the two nations over 10 years was strengthened by the exercise–by the pilots learning to work together in the skies to defeat an enemy. But it was also strengthened by the conversations about family, education and food shared in the moments before and after the pre and post-flight briefs. There was also a soccer match between the two countries' Airmen. These moments of sharing occurred between pilots, maintainers, security personnel and even this public affairs specialist and his Colombian peers. Only history will tell, but the groundwork has been laid for the next 10 years.