RIONEGRO, Colombia –
More than 60 U.S. Airmen and four F-16C Fighting Falcon aircraft from the 169th Fighter Wing, McEntire Joint National Guard Base, Columbia, South Carolina, participated in the Feria Aeronáutica Internacional Rionegro (F-AIR) in Rionegro, Colombia, July 11-14 as part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program (SPP). In addition, following the airshow, the SCANG will take part in a joint exercise with the Colombian Air Force known as Relampago 4.
“The SCANG is truly honored to have been invited to participate in F-AIR 2019 and Relampago 4. These are just the latest opportunities for us to interact and train with our partner Colombia,” said Brig. Gen. R. Scott Lambe, South Carolina Assistant Adjutant General for Air.
The F-AIR airshow gives the SCANG a chance to strengthen the military-to-military relationship with its state partner Colombia and to facilitate interoperability with their Colombian Air Force colleagues. During the international air show, the SCANG provided static display F-16s plus pilots, maintainers and support personnel from McEntire to interact with air show attendees and Colombian partners. The SCANG last participated in the F-AIR airshow in 2017.
This year’s F-AIR airshow marks the 100th anniversary of the Colombian Air Force. The international airshow also hosted the U.S. Air Force Thunderbird Demonstration Team as well as a B-52 from the 307th Bomb wing for a flyover with Colombian Air Force Kfir fighter jets.
The SPP between the State of South Carolina and the Republic of Colombia formally commenced with a proclamation signing on July 23, 2012. Governor Nikki Haley and Colombian Vice-Minister of Defense Jorge Enrique Bedoya signed the partnership proclamation in Columbia, South Carolina. Since that time, Colombia and the SCNG have participated in numerous joint exercises, key leader engagements and personnel exchanges in an effort to forge long term relationships as well as to strengthen areas of mutual interest, shared values and responsibilities for both partners. The SPP between Colombia and the SCNG falls within U.S. Southern Command’s area of responsibility.
Priorities for the Colombia-South Carolina state partnership include helping the Colombian military establish a maintenance culture and a fixed-base maintenance system, assisting the Colombian military transition from a war-time military to a peace-time military, and helping the Republic of Colombia develop an operational reserve force.
Col. Butch Bowers, 169th Fighter Wing Vice-Commander, has been involved in the South Carolina-Colombia SPP since the beginning. Over the past seven years he has watched the program evolve into a “vibrant, bilateral relationship.”
Because of the unique nature of the National Guard and the SCNG’s long term continuity, the SPP has had the opportunity to be more than just a “surface level” relationship, according to Bowers. “It’s gotten way more robust than it was at the beginning because of those relationships and the continuity as well as the willingness of the leadership of the South Carolina National Guard, from the Adjutant General on down, to invest the resources to make it possible,” Bowers said.
Moving forward, Colombia and South Carolina will continue to focus on established lines of effort and to deepen the level of engagements. One such engagement took place between key leaders of the Colombian Air Force and the SCANG during the airshow. Comandante de la Fuerza Aérea Colombiana (Commander of the Colombian Air Force) Gen. Ramsés Rueda Rueda met with Gen. Lambe and 169th Fighter Wing Commander, Col. Akshai Gandhi, for a bilateral dialogue. Some of the agenda items discussed included air defense issues and SCANG participation in future South American exercises such as Angel of the Andes.
When the meeting concluded, Lambe presented Rueda with a special gift on behalf of the SCANG. It was a carved metal, Swamp Fox tail flash modelled from the SCANG F-16 flagship. The work was designed and produced by Staff Sgt. Joseph Jordan from the fabrication shop at the Swamp Fox home, McEntire Joint National Guard Base. “We value the strong relationship forged between South Carolina and our state partner Colombia, which is based on mutual respect. We look to maintain and continually improve our ability to work together,” Lambe said.
On Saturday, Gen. Lambe and several SCNG officers were present at the Colombian Air Force’s 100th anniversary ceremony at the military side of the Jose Maria Cordova Airport. Lambe was the presiding officer representing the South Carolina National Guard.
During the ceremony, Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez conferred special recognition upon the SCNG by pinning a medal on the South Carolina Military Department’s flag. Specifically, the SCANG was awarded the Republic of Colombia Military Medal. The citation accompanying the award reads, in part, “The Commander of the Colombian Air Force awards the South Carolina Air National Guard the Marco Fidel Suarez ‘Special Category’ Military Medal in recognition and testimony of the efficient services provided to the Colombian Air Force with honor and integrity.” Gen. Rueda signed the citation. It’s worth noting that Marco Fidel Suarez is a former President of Colombia as well as the founder of the Colombian Air Force.
Reflecting on the extraordinary occasion, Lambe remarked: “Congratulations to the Colombian Air Force on their 100-year anniversary. That is truly an important milestone to be proud of. Over the past century, the Colombian Air Force has developed into a strong and professional organization thanks to its exceptional leadership and the dedication of its airmen,” he said.
But President Márquez wasn’t done with the SCANG just yet. After the ceremony was over, Márquez walked through the crowds at the airshow and spied Staff Sgt. Gina Floyd wearing a Swamp Fox ballcap. “Congratulations. Thank you for being here. You don’t know how much it means to us,” he told Floyd.
Next week the SCANG will train with their Colombian Air Force counterparts during exercise Relampago 4. This is the third time SCANG F-16s have gone to Rionegro to fly with the Colombian Air Force. The purpose of the exercise is for SCANG F-16s to train with the Colombian Air Force’s Kfir fighters. Some of the missions they will be practicing include Air Combat Maneuver, Opposed Surface Attack Tactics, Defensive Counter Air, and Combat Search and Rescue.
Summing up this week’s activities, Bowers concluded: “Colombia is a fantastic country with fantastic people. They are very similar to us, South Carolinians, culturally. They believe in hard work, strong families, the rule of law and a very strong military. And so the relationship has blossomed because of the synergies and similarities we have with our Colombian friends.”