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NEWS | June 28, 2017

European exercise helps Ohio National Guard strengthen partnership

By Senior Master Sgt. Beth Holliker 180th Airlift Wing, Ohio National Guard

KECSKEMET, Hungary - As part of the National Guard's State Partnership Program, the Ohio National Guard deployed to Kecskemet Air Base in Hungary to participate in a Hungarian-led, multinational, air-to-air and air-to-ground exercise.

The exercise, Load Diffuser 17, ran from May 24 through June 9.

About 200 members of the 180th Fighter Wing, 179th Airlift Wing and 107th Calvary Regiment joined forces with an additional 200 military members from six allied and partner nations and 10 different airframes from throughout Europe for the two-week exercise, to include Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and the United States.

Load Diffuser 17, the largest Hungarian-led, large-force integration exercise in the country's history, took more than a year to plan and four planning meetings at the Hungarian Air Base with both Ohio National Guard and the Hungarian Air Force mission planners.

Though the last Load Diffuser took place seven years ago, when the Ohio National Guard's 178th Fighter Wing participated in the exercise, the U.S. has maintained a positive relationship with the Hungarian military for more than 20 years, recently supporting several other integrated training exercises, including a Heavy Airlift Wing partnership at Papa Air Base, Hungary; a bilateral KC-135 air refueling training event in June, 2015, an F-15 Eagle fighter jet training event in September, 2015, at Kecskemet Air Base; and an F-16 Fighting Falcon training exercise at Papa Air Base in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

The Ohio National Guard and Hungary began their partnership in 1993 as part of the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program, linking the unique capabilities of the National Guard with the armed forces of allied nations. Ohio was specifically partnered with Hungary because of the high population of citizens with Hungarian ancestry in addition to the vastly similar geographical characteristics of both regions.

By connecting a state's National Guard with a partner nation's military, both build cooperative, mutually beneficial relationships, focused on enhancing capabilities and readiness, and a stronger commitment to the collective defense and security of Europe through combined operations and interoperability.

Multinational training exercises like Load Diffuser 17 allow both the U.S. Air Force and participating NATO allied and partner militaries to hone joint fighting capabilities through operational training while building successful and progressive relationships leading to tangible and mutual benefits during peacetime, contingencies and crises through regional security and coalition operations.

"Here at Exercise Load Diffuser, we have touched every mission in the air domain, from interdiction, to air superiority, to strike, to surveillance, to airlift, and to command and control," said Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of United States Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa. "And what we know after this exercise is that each and every one of our maintainers, operators and mission supporters will be much more capable in their ability to defend the nation and the cause."

Wolters, along with several other senior military and government officials from the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, U.S. Air Force, Hungarian Defence Forces and Ohio National Guard, visited the air base throughout the exercise, underscoring the impact multinational exercises, such as Load Diffuser, have on the enhancement of joint readiness and interoperability.

Highlighting the strong friendship between the U.S. and Hungary, Wolters touted that U.S. Air Force participation in the exercise was made possible by the Total Force team of the Ohio National Guard.

"The Ohio National Guard has been the state partner with Hungary for more than two decades," said Wolters. "I am pleased that the Ohio Guard's six F-16s and two C-130s could deploy here to engage with our NATO allies, support defense security goals and take advantage of these valuable training opportunities."

The Air National Guard has long provided critical support throughout the USAFE-AFAFRICA region and areas of operation by deploying and interacting with a variety of nations in combined exercises that strive to enhance capabilities and skills among allied and partner air forces.

Participation in multinational exercises improves overall coordination with allies and partner militaries, helps to ensure interoperability and enables our European allies and partners to globally deploy their forces alongside the U.S. It is exercises like these that are the key to maintaining joint readiness and reassuring our regional allies and partners.

"Exercise Load Diffuser is emblematic of what it takes to have a functional and effective defense alliance," said Mr. David J. Kostelancik, Chargé d'Affaires, U.S. Embassy in Budapest. "Behind all of the ideas and planning and agreements and discussions and paperwork, it comes down to talented, committed men and women in uniform who will reach across language, cultural and historic divides and do the difficult work of communicating, coordinating and solving problems, and that's what we see here today."

Along with the rare chance to interact with foreign militaries, Load Diffuser 17 also provided the opportunity to conduct force integration sorties, training with dissimilar aircraft, such as the Hungarian and Czech Republic JAS 39 Gripens, Slovenian PC-9 Swift, Croatian Mi-17 HIP Helicopter, the L-39 Albatros and L-159 Atlas from the Czech Republic and U.S. C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft.

Training with dissimilar aircraft allows allies and partner militaries to work together on mastering combat tactics and operational-level campaigns in a controlled, strategic, advanced and realistic environment.

"Conducting these realistic training missions in this environment was an intentional aspect specifically built into the exercise to help pilots and mission planners learn to overcome the obstacles they would face in a real-world coalition effort, such as language barriers and differences in operational procedures," said Lt. Col. Greg Barasch, 112th Fighter Squadron Commander and deployed detachment commander. "Many of the issues can be easily resolved from using brevity words, short phrases used by pilots to communicate information contributing to the ability to complete successful execution of world-wide deployments and coalition missions."

Throughout the exercise, the Ohio National Guard's F-16s and C-130s flew 125 missions totaling 147 flying hours training in simulated combat missions with a high number of allied aircraft attacking or defending against a high number of adversary aircraft and ground targets.

Flying a variety of missions to include basic fighter maneuvers, air combat maneuvers, defensive counter air, close air support, strike coordination and reconnaissance, rescue efforts and airlift missions, this exercise honed vital readiness skills by enhancing multilateral air operations, and promoting stability and security throughout the European region.

Not only that, this training provided the strategic agility needed to fight against a formidable and aggressive adversary by training as they would integrate to maintain air superiority and conduct offensive and defensive tactics in combat situations.

"We demonstrated the capability to operate in a complex, multinational environment with precise execution," said Maj. Gen. Stephen Markovich, commander, Ohio Air National Guard. "We must have a deep bench of Airmen with first-hand experience operating in these types of environments with different regional partners. This type of exercise builds confidence, identifies opportunities for improvement and creates trust between partners."

"Our ability to manage the challenges of today's dynamic security environment hinges on how well we work together," said Wolters. "Load Diffuser is an opportunity for allies to learn from each other and recognize the unique strengths each nation brings to the fight and it highlighted that our greatest strength is working together."

This exercise is supported by the European Reassurance Initiative, which enables the U. S. to further support the defense and security of NATO allies and to bolster the security and capacity of U.S. partners. Our persistent, rotational presence in Central and Eastern Europe is fully in line with our international commitments and agreements, and a visible sign of our commitment to collective defense.

"The participation of six NATO allies in this exercise proves that we are stronger together than we could ever be by ourselves," said Wolters.

Throughout the past 20 years, the National Guard's State Partnership Program has built 79 partnerships with allied nations around the world. The partnerships have cultivated unique cultural exchange experiences, provided valuable training opportunities and improved international relations.