JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas --
The 149th Fighter Wing's Lone Star Gunfighters are hosting a team of aviators from both the Czech and Chilean air forces as part of their role in the National Guard's State Partnership Program.
The program links a state's National Guard with an allied nation's military and conducts periodic exchanges that focus on various objectives such as peacekeeping missions, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, search and rescue operations, noncommissioned officer development and medical engagements.
The 149th's F-16 pilots have been working alongside pilots from both countries to enhance interoperability in deploying fighter aircraft. The goal of the interaction is to highlight best practices among the three countries to improve the working relationship during future coalition operations and missions.
The visit involves opportunities for the countries to participate in academics, familiarization flights and time on the F-16 simulator.
"Our connection has continued to grow and develop as both allies and state partners," said Col. Raul Rosario, commander of the 149th FW. "Our relationship of mutual trust and cooperation has spanned 26 years with our Czech partners and 10 years with Chile. We look forward to many more years of these types of engagements."
The SPP first formed in 1993 with partnerships between the National Guards of designated U.S. states and newly independent Eastern European countries. Since then, the number of partners has grown. Under this program, all U.S. states and territories with National Guard elements now have at least one partnership.
Chilean F-16 pilot Maj. Pablo Jorquera remarked on how the unique partnership builds not only cultural awareness and friendships but also enhances overall understanding between the countries.
"Everything is about knowledge," he said. "It is the meat of everything. For you, [it's about] what is Chile? [Who is] this the pilot from Chile? [Is this method] good, [is this method] not good. For us, it is good learning about your culture, your systems. This is good for us and you."
The 149th FW participated in an air exercise in June 2018 with their Czech partners in the Czech Republic and also with their Chilean partners this past November during another air exercise that was held in Natal, Brazil.
Lt. Col. Sean Penrod, an F-16 pilot assigned to the 149th FW who participated in the recent Czech-hosted air exercise, mentioned the rare opportunity of having the two partner nations visit at the same time.
"The Czechs and the Chileans are working together, which has never actually happened before," he said. "Not only do we get to know their country, but they get to know each other. If we ever deploy with them in the future, be it combat or humanitarian mission, we have those established connections, and those friendships are already built so we really understand how each other is going to operate. We will just hit the ground running when we do meet at a future destination."
Under the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program, 76 partnerships are in place with support to 83 nations around the globe.