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US Begins Training Sorties in Poland

A Polish F-16 Fighting Falcon taxis past a 555th Fighter Squadron F-16 before a training mission, March 18, 2014, at Lask Air Base, Poland.

LASK AIR BASE, Poland -- U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base, Italy, began off-site aerial training for the first time since their arrival at Detachment 1, 52nd Operations Group here, March 18. 

The training enhances interoperability, allowing pilots to take advantage of a unique opportunity to operate across the range of military operations with precise full-spectrum capabilities.

"Bilateral training is essential for future operations within NATO responsibilities," said Lt. Col. John Peterson, the 555th Fighter Squadron commander. "When we execute operations in possible real-world situations, we need to have taken the opportunity to train with our fellow NATO nations. In this case, having been invited by the Polish government to train with Polish air force counterparts, it's a unique opportunity for us to combine forces."

On the first day of flying, 16 pilots acclimated to a new airspace and local area procedures. Because of information provided by Polish air force pilots, the flying mission was a success.

"Flying in a different environment poses several challenges, most importantly ensuring the safety of your flight with little knowledge of our emergency airfields," said Capt. Kirby Sanford, a 555th Fighter Squadron pilot and the chief of training. "Fortunately, we were provided the information we needed to successfully and safely execute on day one due to an in-brief from our Polish counterparts."

As the training continues, the scenarios become more complex, allowing pilots to exercise their capabilities to a comprehensive extent. 

"We are going to be able to enhance each one of the tactical training missions and take our skill sets to the next level," Sanford said. "This will be even more evident when we get the opportunity to train in the air with the Polish fighter pilots."

Reflecting upon previous training missions with NATO allies, Sanford said he realizes influential lessons learned through bilateral integration.

"I flew with Bulgarian aircraft in 2012 and with the Portuguese F-16s a month ago," he said. "There are so many lessons learned and each one provides insight to how we are able to effectively pick up our entire operation and be ready to train or fight within a matter of days in a different NATO country. The most important piece of information I've learned, each country brings something to the fight and in my opinion -- that's what makes our coalition efforts so effective." 

Aerial training will continue with the integration of Polish F-16s to strengthen U.S. and Polish communication and combine in-flight tactics. 

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