MIRGOROD AIR BASE, Ukraine - Several Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcons landed in Ukraine this weekend for a U.S. European Command sponsored, aerial military-to-military exchange event called SAFE SKIES 2011, a joint exercise held throughout this month in which pilots from the U.S., Poland and Ukraine will engage in air sovereignty operations in preparation for the 2012 Olympics, the 2012 EURO Cup, and the 2014 Winter Games in Europe.
Air National Guard units from Alabama, California, Massachusetts and Washington flew into a base that until Friday had only seen use by Ukrainian MiG-29s and Su-27 Flanker aircraft.
These Airmen are here as part of the National Guard State Partnership program which is expected to play a major role in Safe Skies 2011. Air Guard pilots will train with Polish and Ukrainian pilots in the same air space, with an overall goal of enhancing multinational cooperation in an effort to promote airspace security.
The seven F-16Cs from Alabama and Iowa cut through the calm, blue Ukrainian sky and are among the first American fighter jets to touchdown in this former soviet-bloc country.
"Working together with the Ukrainian and Polish air forces is important to U.S. interests in that it helps promote regional stability," said Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Swertfager, project officer for the exercise and an F-16 pilot assigned to the144th Fighter Wing, California Air National Guard. "This event increases our collective capacity to address common security challenges."
The foundation to the event is the State Partnership Program. While the California Guard is partners with Ukraine, the Illinois Guard's partner nation is Poland. These relationships have led the way over the past years in allow for this massive collaborative effort.
After two years of planning, the fighter jets landed Saturday, with crowds of Ukrainian air force members watching as the Mirgorod Air Base ramp began to fill up with U.S. fighter aircraft.
Ukrainian Lt. Gen. Vasyl Nikiforov, deputy commander of the Ukrainian air force, said he was very excited to have his pilots fly with the U.S. Air Force and looks forward to a successful exchange.