BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- A delegation of five people from the 2nd Bomb Wing visited Engels Air Base in Saratov, Russia, last month on a goodwill mission with a dual purpose.
Team members evaluated the suitability of the airfield at Engels Air Base for B-52H operations. The outing also established initial relationships for a long range aviation bomber exchange program between the U.S. and Russia.
"We're going to fly B-52s to Russia, and they're going to fly Tu-95 Bears to Barksdale," said 2nd Bomb Wing commander, Col. Andrew Gebara, who led the Barksdale group. "It's a tremendous opportunity for our two nations to learn from each other to improve aviation technology and skills in our respective air forces."
Lt. Col. Michael Thompson, 2nd Bomb Wing director of staff, Capt. Michael Middents, 2nd Operations Support Squadron, Senior Master Sgt. Joseph Sternod, 2nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, and Master Sgt. Lance Taylor, 2nd Security Forces, made the trip with Gebara. They were joined by a U.S. Embassy Attaché from Moscow, as well as an interpreter.
While participants had hurdles with the language barrier, the team noticed some similarities.
"One of the big takeaways from our trip is that while we fly different aircraft and are from opposite ends of the globe, our objective is the same," said Thompson. "We all want to have a safe and credible deterrent force."
Engels Air Base vice commander, Col. Yuri Pelin, took the group on a tour of the base. The delegation was able to observe most of the ramp, study airfield diagrams and watch several different airframes complete landings.
"Our Russian hosts were extremely hospitable and open," said Thompson. "They made every effort to make us feel welcome and assist us in accomplishing our site survey."
The trip was also an exercise in reciprocation. Several members of the Russian team recently visited Barksdale.
"The Air Force benefits greatly from the relationships established between the U.S. and any foreign nation," said Gebara. "The Russian delegation's visit to Barksdale, followed by our trip to Engels Air Base, opened the door for future positive relationships between our two nations."