BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Approximately 250 Airmen from the Colorado Air National Guard's 140th Wing based at Buckley Air Force Base, Aurora, are training in Europe throughout June.
The unit is participating for the first time in Saber Strike 18, which includes flying F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft in a multi-national training exercise with allied partners.
Saber Strike is a series of exercises that have been conducted since 2010, incorporating ground and air operations, uniting forces to strengthen cooperation and interoperability between nations and across a variety of mission sets.
Colorado Airmen will plan and execute missions throughout the Balkan region involving personnel and military assets from 19 countries.
"This is a fantastic opportunity and invaluable training, which also demonstrates our commitment to NATO and our allies," said U.S. Air Force Col. Brian Turner, commander, 140th Wing, COANG. "There is no better way to build an effective relationship with our allies than training side by side and practicing the skills necessary to protect the freedom of sovereign nations."
The wing mobilized as a unit to Estonia for the first time, then forward deployed a detachment to Slovenia, another first as F-16s are training within Colorado's State Partnership Program country. The wing will operate from both locations, simultaneously.
"The opportunity to fly with the support of Slovenia holds a special significance for us since Slovenia and Colorado have been partners for over 25 years," Turner said. "We have developed a strong friendship that has enabled us to better support NATO and all of our European allies."
Making this mission even more unique, Colorado F-16s will train, for the first time, at the Poček Main Training Area in Slovenia, which members of the COANG helped Slovenia to develop and bring to NATO standards in 2015.
"Exercises of this nature are a force multiplier," Turner said. "They bolster the U.S.'s ability to effectively conduct military operations with our partner nations and to be prepared in the event of a contingency.
The inclusion of our Slovenian partners increases the cohesion and cultural understanding throughout the training. It is truly significant, since this is the first time our pilots and aircraft maintenance members have trained in Slovenia."
Although much of the 140th Wing will participate in the exercise, a significant number will remain at Buckley Air Force Base to support the 24/7/365 Aerospace Control Alert mission, responding within a moment's notice to any airborne threats in the central region of the United States, and to assist civil authorities to respond to domestic emergencies.