HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, FL, UNITED STATES
HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, Fla. -- Five members of the Uruguay Air Force visited Homestead Air Reserve Base, July 26-28, where they received briefings and orientation flights with the 93rd Fighter Squadron.
According to Uruguayan Air Force Col. Sergio Gonzalez, commander, 2nd Air Brigade, the pilots came to Homestead by invitation from the U.S. Air Force through the American Embassy in Uruguay as part of an ongoing exchange program with U.S. Southern Command which fosters close ties between the two nations.
“Our Air Force is continually improving our capabilities, particularly counter-narcotics,” said Col. Gonzalez. “The first stage in the process was to buy new ground radars. The second phase is to buy new aircraft. Our current tactical fleet is aging rapidly, and we are currently seeking to replace them with more current aircraft.”
The pilots of the 2nd Air Brigade primarily fly A-37 Dragonflies, an attack version of a Vietnam War-era American Trainer, and the FMA IA 58 Pucara, an Argentine counter-insurgency aircraft.
None of the aircraft that the Uruguayans currently fly have radar, so familiarization is one of the purposes of the visit. Though they are not in the market to buy F-16’s, getting a chance to fly backseat in the 93rd’s D-models will give the pilots the chance to experience the capabilities of the more modern planes. The experience may also help convince Uruguay to “buy American” when shopping for new planes or radar systems.
The other big purpose of the flights is to serve as a subject matter expert exchange. One of the main missions of the Uruguay Air Force is the interception of illicit drug traffic. While in the air, actual training exercises were conducted with the intent to educate and foster a free flow of ideas between the American and Uruguayan pilots.
Uruguay Air Force Capt. Patrick Jaimez was the first member of the 2nd Air Brigade to get a flight.
“Amazing,” he said. “It was a great experience, it was the first time I have flown supersonic, and I was able to see how the radar worked. And I was able to experience the brotherhood (that pilots share) and the same universal spirit.”
Lt. Col. Saint Lehtinen, U.S. Air Force Section Chief, U.S. Embassy, Montevideo, Uruguay, served as host, escort, and translator for the group.
“Our mission in Uruguay is to help grow the nation’s capabilities, security, and stability,” said Lt. Col. Lehtinen. “We also want to promote U.S. interests, provide humanitarian assistance and counter drug trafficking.”
According to Col. Gonzalez, the Uruguayan Air Force often works closely with the United States. Many of their aircraft and training manuals come from the U.S., so they frequently send people to America as part of the exchange program.
“I am very satisfied with this visit,” said Col. Gonzalez. “We have been made to feel at home; the integration is superb. Professionally, we will take home a lot of good experiences.”
Despite being only 3,000 people strong, the Uruguayan Air Force has a global impact. Ten percent of the Uruguayan military is deployed, making them the highest per-capita contributor to peacekeeping operations in the world. Currently Uruguay is supporting operations in Haiti and Republic of Congo.
The last part of the 3-day visit to Homestead ARB was a visit to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, where they received a briefing on how Customs conducts their intercepts and a tour of the facility.
The next stop for the five pilots will be Naval Air Station Key West, where they will receive more orientation from the U.S. Navy.
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