Colorado Air National Guard Trains with NATO Allies

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A crew chief from the Colorado Air National Guard's 140th Wing marshals an F-16 Fighting Falcon into position after landing at Papa Air Base, Hungary, in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve 2016.(US Air National Guard photo/John Rohrer)
A crew chief from the Colorado Air National Guard's 140th Wing marshals an F-16 Fighting Falcon into position after landing at Papa Air Base, Hungary, in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve 2016.(US Air National Guard photo/John Rohrer)

More than 200 Colorado National Guard airmen and 10 F-16 fighters from Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora are facing a new kind of battle this weekend as they drill in northern Europe.

For the first time, the troops from the 140th Fighter Wing are taking on newer, better jets flown by allies during the Operation Atlantic Resolve exercises held by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization this summer.

"They do have more modern aircraft," said Lt. Col. Jason Kneuer, who is leading a squadron of the venerable 1980s-vintage F-16 fighters from Colorado for the training.

It's good those Swedes with their shiny new Saab Gripens and other allies with their state-of-art Eurofighters are on our side.

"Its not just fighting against them. We're also going to do integrated work," Kneuer said.

The month-long deployment has seen the Guard troops working alongside allies from the Arctic Circle to the Adriatic Sea. Working primarily from airfields in Estonia, the Guard airmen have been dropping bombs and honing other wartime skills.

The exercises are familiar ones to Colorado Springs, which has been sending troops to Europe since 2016 to join in training exercises that are designed to deter rising Russian aggression in the region.

On Monday, Fort Carson's 4th Combat Aviation Brigade boarded transport jets at Peterson Air Force Base for transatlantic flight to join the training regimen in the coming months.

But getting the Guard involved is a new step for Colorado.

The part-time troops drill just one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer, yet can be used interchangeably with their active-duty comrades.

"We're here to increase our readiness and interoperability," Kneuer explained in a call from Estonia.

The wing made its way to Europe in one long transatlantic hop, with pilots topping off their fuel from tankers orbiting over the ocean.

Just getting to Estonia, after a stop in the Netherlands, was a tough training exercise for the Guard troops, Kneuer explained, noting that his airmen overcame "the logistical challenge of moving aircraft that far away."

The Guard troops are also working with the Slovenian military while overseas. The Colorado Guard has long partnered with the Balkan nation, but this is just the second time the state has sent its fighter jets there.

The wing's Lt. Col. Chris "Kojack" Melka said training across such a wide swath of Europe has kept leaders on their toes.

"Our Swedish training is coming up next week," he said. "We have been doing a lot of coordination leading up to it."

Kneuer said the European experience will help the wing stay ready in an uncertain world.

"Anytime they call us, we want to be ready," he said.

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This article is written by Tom Roeder from The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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