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Aviano Stays 'Forward, Ready, Now' with Joint Exercise

Joint tactical air controllers call in simulated airstrikes Dec. 2, 2014, in Barcis, Italy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Matthew Lotz)
Joint tactical air controllers call in simulated airstrikes Dec. 2, 2014, in Barcis, Italy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Matthew Lotz)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- The 555th Fighter Squadron hosted a weeklong exercise with the U.S. and Netherlands joint tactical air controllers here Dec. 2, as a part of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces in Africa's "Forward, Ready, Now" initiative.

Together, JTACs from the 2nd Air Support Operations Squadron and the Royal Netherlands army and U.S. Army 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, coordinated airstrikes with F-16 Fighting Falcons from Aviano Air Base on simulated targets to stay current in their proficiencies.

"I cannot express how grateful we are that we had the ability to train with the Army, Air Force and Dutch in this exercise," said Capt. Brian Beears, the 555th FS weapons officer and exercise mission commander. "The (555th FS) looks forward to continuing interoperability missions between our NATO and allied countries."

With Aviano AB increasing their flying operations during the exercise from 90 to 310 sorties a week, several units throughout the 555th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, 31st Logistics Readiness Squadron and 31st Operations Support Squadron contributed to ensure the training was successful.

"While not everyone had the opportunity to see or experience the training, this was a base-wide effort," Beears said. "It wouldn't have been as successful as it was if we didn't have the units that travelled down to help also."

Aviano AB has a recent record of successful interoperability missions within the past month. Just two weeks ago, the 555th FS returned from Amari Air Base, Estonia, where they performed similar operations with the Estonian JTACs as a part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

"With real-world missions like (Operation Unified Protector) and persistent threats like (the Islamic State group), there is no such thing as 'too much training' with our NATO allies," Beears said.

According to Beears, both exercises were intended to give the fighter pilots close air support training -- exercises to enhance communication between air and ground forces that is often critical in real-world operations. To help imitate a deployed environment, the JTACs used actual buildings and mountains to assist them as they called in simulated strikes.

"It's crucial that we were able to train with the (555th FS) pilots," said Capt. Joost, a Dutch army JTAC. "When we are tasked to operate with American pilots, it's good to train with them before to get all the bumps out of the way. There are things these experienced pilots know that we learn during these types of interoperability training."

Joost said the most important training that the Dutch army gets to take away is having the chance to improve their English in an operational setting. 

"It doesn't matter what nation you are from, you must be able to speak English to operate downrange," he explained. "It's not just to speak with the Americans, but also the French, Spanish and other European countries that we operate with."

While deployments can happen at a moment's notice, Beears asserted that these types of multinational trainings have helped prepare both the fighter pilots and other Airmen involved.

"If the Air Force wanted to send us right now, we'd pack our things, say goodbye to our family and get on a plane because we are 'Forward, Ready, Now,’" he said.

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