ANTOFAGASTA, Chile -
Chilean president Michelle Bachelet was on-hand today to officially kick off Exercise Salitre 2014 at Cerro Moreno Air Base on the northern coast of Chile.
The exercise includes air forces from Chile, the U.S., Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay and centers around enhancing multilateral interoperability between nations.
"The primary aim of this exercise is to prepare our Air Forces to work together in the future," said Lt. Col. Raul Rosario, deployed detachment commander from the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard. "Whether this eventuality is during a natural disaster or something else we need to practice together so we can work well together when needed."
More than 80 Airmen, along with six F-16 Fighting Falcons from Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, and a KC-135 Stratotanker from Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Ohio, represent the U.S. contingent.
"This exercise provides an opportunity to strengthen our military-to-military relationships with regional partners," said Col. Mike Torrealday, Reserve Advisor to the 12th Air Force Commander at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. The colonel also acted as exercise co-director along with representatives from the other nations.
"Participating in events such as Salitre helps strengthen our relationships and increase operational capabilities within the Western hemisphere," he said.
The Airmen and F-16s from the 149th FW were selected as participants in this engagement because of Texas's link to Chile through the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program. SPP matches a National Guard state with a partner country to exchange military skills and experience, share defense knowledge, and enhance partnership capacity and further mutual security cooperation.
Earlier this year, Texas Air National Guard Airmen traveled to Santiago to take part in FIDAE, Chile's premier airshow and aviation expo. They also held exchanges between various specialties, further strengthening relationships between the two nations.
"We had a great encounter with the Chilean air force at FIDAE," said Master Sgt. Kyle Kuhlman, a crew chief with the 149th FW. "If we needed something, they were able to provide it to us and if they needed something, we were able to help them."
Continued interactions between the countries build upon each other to establish understanding and good relationships. At Salitre, Kuhlman represented the U.S. in ensuring proactive preparations were made in case of aircraft accidents or incidents.
"Each country had a representative for crash recovery, so I had to work with the Chilean airmen to find out what capabilities they had and work through what we'd need should something happen," he said.
Ultimately, it's the human interaction that makes exercises like Salitre worthwhile.
"The cultural exchange in the best part," Kuhlman added. "We're able to see how similar and how different we all operate, and make the mission work."