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Colorado and Jordan bonds strengthen in the air

By Maj. Darin Overstreet | Colorado National Guard | June 12, 2017

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BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Though half a world separates homes and cultures, Soldiers and Airmen find common ground in the air.

Tools, equipment and processes can form a common language, but it's the National Guard State Partnership Program that provides the foundation for a 13-year relationship between the Colorado National Guard and the Jordan Armed Forces.

During the past 10 years, COARNG helicopter pilots have hosted Royal Jordanian Air Force aircrew. Its helicopter pilots fly the Super Puma model helicopter, which is widely used outside of the United States. Recently, through U.S. assistance under the Counter-Terrorism Partnership Fund, the RJAF is receiving 12 Black Hawks to enhance Jordan's Quick Reaction Force and boost border security. The addition of this aircraft presented a perfect fit for Jordan's partnership with Colorado.

Aviators and Crew Chiefs from the Colorado Army National Guard hosted a six-person team from the RJAF, at Buckley Air Force Base, Aurora, Colorado, during March 2017.

Academically, the exchange addressed the use of hoists and cargo hook systems [sling-loads], which are valuable for both search and rescue missions and transportation of large objects and equipment.

"Crew coordination has been a big focus for the exchange," U.S. Army 1st Lt. Christopher Poppleton, a COARNG Chinook pilot and co-action officer for the exchange, said. "This has given a lot of insight into how both sides do things, where we meet in the middle, where some differences are, and how both sides really can improve. So, it's been excellent."

"When it comes to developing sling-load capabilities crew coordination is very important," said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Andrew Casavant, Black Hawk pilot and co-action officer for the exchange. "The crew chiefs in the back are integral to that process. When you have a load underneath you, the pilot can't see it. So, the crew chief who has eyes on that is really important. Through the practice here, they get to see how the sling-load will shift and move, and weigh the aircraft down. The key is to keep that from getting out of control."

"We used the sling-load when we flew the Super Puma, and are anxious to begin using it with the Black Hawk," 1st Lt. Odai Al-Jaloudi, RJAF Black Hawk pilot, said. "This helped us and the crewmen to be familiar with operating while using the sling-load. We have gotten some experience and hints, and they will be good for Jordan. This is a good facility and I will take much information home to Jordan. I hope to be back."

Participants said that having the common language of aircraft manuals, tactics and procedures goes a long way to bridging language and cultural barriers, and in the end, forming stronger bonds.

"What really struck me were the similarities," Casavant said. "A lot of the processes and procedures they have, we have as well. So, when we're looking at performance planning, all that's very much the same. Not having met them before, we already have that commonality, right off the bat."

"As a new Black Hawk crew chief, I was able to benefit from the experiences of a crew chief with 7,000 hours of flight time," Sgt. Hazem Al-Qaise, an RJAF crew chief, said through a translator. "On the Super Puma, there isn't as much of an in-flight role for a crew chief. On a Black Hawk, we are an important part of the crew, having to coordinate and sometimes make decisions that affect the safety of the flight. In the Black Hawk, we have to be well aware of everything during the flight."

Newly selected to participate in the exchanges, Poppleton said that he is anxious to learn more about Jordanian and Arabic culture.

"It's a great chance for exposure," Poppleton said. "Getting to interact more with them [during off-duty time], we get to know more about Jordanian culture, and especially their history. They have such an incredible history. Having never been there, I'm all ears and amazed at their history. I hope we keep doing these kinds of events. They're fantastic and enhance our relationship with Jordan."

A significant benefit of the program is the development of lasting, often career-long, relationships. Since National Guard members stay with their unit for years, if not a career, Citizen-Soldiers are able to develop and maintain these international friendships.

"It's good to have this relationship," Capt. Ahmad Al Askar, RJAF maintenance officer, said. "These guys have a lot of experience with the aircraft and were very kind to share so much information. I'm thankful for the whole team for accompanying us all the time, even when we went up Pikes Peak."

"This is a great opportunity, for both sides. I can't wait to do it again," Poppleton said. "I have to get myself over there."