News: Saber Strike bolsters Estonian Air Base
Story by Tech. Sgt. Daniel Heaton
AMARI AIR BASE, Estonia - An airfield has come to life.
“With this exercise, life starts at this airfield,” said Estonian air force Lt. Col. Roman Timofejev, commander of the Amari Air Base in Estonia.
During Saber Strike 2012 a variety of U.S. Air Force aircraft – primarily A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and KC-135s from the Michigan Air National Guard’s 127th Wing – have been using the base, along with several helicopters and small fixed-wing aircraft operated by the Estonian air force. The exercise, which took place over a two-week period in June, featured about 2,000 total military personnel from eight different nations operating from a variety of locations, primarily in Estonia and neighboring Latvia. The Michigan Air National Guard located about 150 personnel and a half-dozen aircraft at Amari.
“Life starts at this airfield now with this major deployment,” Timofejev said. “Each aircraft that came in here was the largest ever at this base, first C-130, then the tanker [KC-135] and of course the C-17.”
U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster aircraft landed at Amari during the exercise to provide logistical support to the air operations at the base.
The Michigan A-10s are not only the first-ever A-10s to land at Amari, but are the first operational fighter aircraft from a NATO country, Timofejev said.
During the exercise, a variety of senior military and governmental leaders from many of the participating countries visited Amari to view the operations, including Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, commanding general of the U.S. Army Europe. During his visit to Amari, Hertling spoke to Estonian military while flanked by the U.S. ambassador to Estonia, Michael C. Polt, and Col. Indrek Sirel, commander of the Estonian army.
“The U.S. government is committed to maintaining a strong operational presence in Europe,” the general said during his June 12 visit. “This exercise is an example of that commitment.”
As part of the Saber Strike 2012 exercise, the Michigan Air National Guard’s 127th Wing working in partnership with the Estonia air force to help the Estonians gain expertise and operational experience at the air base, which was used by the military of the Soviet Union when Estonia was under Soviet control during the Cold War era, 1944-1991. In 1994, the last Soviet troops left Estonia and the Amari Air Base and the air field fell into disrepair for several years.
The Amari base was re-established under Estonian control in 1997. In 2006, an agreement was reached to begin to prepare the base to support NATO operations. Construction began in 2008 and local operations have been going on for several years. Timofejev said Saber Strike is by far the largest operation to happen to date at Amari.
“Life starts at this airfield now with this major deployment,” Timofejev said. “Each aircraft that came in here was the largest ever at this base, first C-130, then the tanker and of course the C-17.”
U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster aircraft landed at Amari to provide logistical support to the air operations at Amari.
The Michigan A-10s are not only the first-ever A-10s to land at the base, but are the first operational fighter aircraft from a NATO country, Timofejev said.
“This is a great opportunity for my folks to learn to run base operations,” the base commander said. “I have a few people who have experience and expertise, but many of my folks are brand new. We don’t even know what we don’t know.”
Lt. Col. William Henderson, a 127th Wing pilot who is serving as the Michigan detachment commander at Amari, said the Estonians opened their arms to welcome his American airmen.
“They worked the relationships within their own government to build the higher-level partnership and then have been very accommodating to us to work at the airman-to-airman level,” Henderson said.
“They have created a facility here where, tactically speaking, a unit can come in and very quickly be able to begin flying missions,” he said.
Saber Strike is a U.S. Army Europe-led theater security cooperation exercise conducted in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The exercise focuses on command and control, as well as interoperability with regional partners. The Michigan National Guard has been in a state partnership program with the military of Latvia for the past 20 years. Saber Strike represents the first time that most of the Michigan citizen-airmen from the 127th Wing have been to Estonia.
“I believe this exercise is the beginning of a very positive new relationship between Michigan and Estonia and helps us to strengthen our partnership with Latvia,” Henderson said.