News: First USAF aircraft to land at Latvian Air Base
Story by Senior Airman Jonathan Stefanko
RIGA, Latvia - A runway was used for the first time by the U.S. Air Force when three C-130 J-models assigned to the 37th Airlift Squadron landed at Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, June 17, 2014, in part of the multinational exercise Saber Strike 2014.
Few pilots have the rare opportunity to be the first to land on a new runway and for Capt. Michael Heddinger, 37th AS pilot, it will be an experience he will never forget.
“It’s really cool to think about being the first to land when there aren’t a lot of runways left in the world that we haven’t already used,” said Heddinger. “Especially since the reason we are landing is to work with the Latvian Air Force and our own Airmen during Saber Strike.”
The 37th AS Airmen brought approximately 92 Airmen from the 435th Contingency Response Group and equipment needed to build a bare base during the Air Force-specific training.
“Our role during the exercise is to support the 435th CRG Airmen as well as the Estonian and Latvian military,” Heddinger said. “We will be conducting personnel and equipment drops that will be needed in building a functioning bare base.”
Providing another location for the U.S. Air Force to conduct exercises with Latvia will provide more opportunities to improve interoperability between the two nations.
“This exercise has been in the works for approximately two years,” said Lt. Col Andrew Roberts, bilateral affairs officer with the U.S. Embassy – Riga. “It’s important that we have this capability here so we can develop the skills required to open the base and receive aircraft. It also represents taking the next step toward increasing the development of the air base's infrastructure.”
Strengthening a bond more than 20 years old, Latvia and the United States aim to improve future joint missions by sharing knowledge and various skill sets during Saber Strike.
Heddinger stated that adding more opportunities for our Air Force to train with the Baltic nation will build upon joint capabilities, ensuring a much stronger partnership and interoperable skills needed during bilateral missions.