WATERKLOOF AIR FORCE BASE, PRETORIA, South Africa - More than 100 American military personnel, including 15 members of the New York Army and Air National Guard, the Army’s Golden Knights Parachute Team, and the U.S. Air Forces Europe jazz band, Wings of Dixie, represented the U.S. at the African continent’s largest air show here Sept. 17-21.
The New York National Guard, which has a partnership arrangement with the South African National Defense Force under the National Guard State Partnership Program, participated for the fourth time.
The African Aerospace & Defence Exposition, which is held every other year, featured nearly 60 civilian and military aircraft, vehicle, and safety equipment demonstrations; and flying and static displays from some of the biggest names in the aviation and the defense industry. The event combines a trade show with an air show open to the public.
The American contribution to the exposition included a C-17 Globemaster III flown by the New York Air National Guard’s 105th Airlift Wing at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, and a New York Army National Guard RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle operated by the 27th Brigade Special Troops Battalion in Rochester, New York.
The New York C-17 was the largest plane on display at the show. A C-130J Super Hercules operated by the 86th Airlift Wing from Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, rounded out the American contribution to the static displays.
For the New York National Guard, the trip to the air show is another opportunity to develop an ongoing relationship, said Brig. Gen. Anthony German, the chief of staff for the New York Air National Guard.
“What is important to keep in mind is that nearly 11 years later, the partnership between South Africa and New York National Guard is continuing to grow stronger,” said German, the ranking officer in the U.S. military contingent.
The crowds, the excitement and genuine interest of the South African people and others here at the events this week to visit our static displays and engage with the pilots, crew or operators are emblematic of the fact that our attendance here is greater than an air show,” he added.
But while the air show is the reason that military and business representatives from across Africa and around the world gather here, the event is about much more than that.
“Our participation in this air show is a big part of an even bigger picture which is to strengthen our relationship with South Africa and also our regional partners,” explained John McNamara, the acting deputy chief of missions of the U.S. Embassy in South Africa.
“For me personally, representing the chief of staff of the Air Force, it’s a tremendous opportunity for me to interact with the senior officials of not only South Africa, but also the leaders of many of the countries that participate in this,” said Lt. Gen. Darryl L. Roberson, commander of the 3rd Air Force and 17th Expeditionary Air Force headquartered at Ramstein, Germany.
During the trade and air shows, over 145,000 people visited the C-17, while about 60,000 saw the Shadow. New York Army and Air National Guard members posed for 1,500 pictures with visitors.
“The C-17 is absolutely fantastic,” said South African Air Force Capt. Leon Olinsky, a C-130 pilot with the 28th Squadron. “It gives us a broader perspective of what else is out there and, at the end of the day, it’s events like these that help us build better relationships.”
The chance to talk to ordinary South Africans, as well as military people, made the trip really special for the Airmen and Soldiers who took part.
“Meeting the people makes all of the travel and the prep time worth it,” said New York Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Burke.
“They stand in line for up to an hour, in some cases, for five minutes of conversation. It means a lot and hopefully they go away fulfilled,” he added.
“I have had more than a few young people tell me how this is an unforgettable moment and how much it means to them that we attended this year’s air show and exposition, which marks the 20th year celebration of South Africa as a democracy,” said Maj. Wayne Brown, a 105th Airlift Wing pilot.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” said Sgt. Matthew Larue, a Shadow operator and member of the 27th Brigade Special Troops Battalion. “Being able to come here and see equipment from other countries has been really cool.”
The Golden Knights, whose members are the top parachutists in the Army, performed five times during the show.
Maj. Constant Benadé, a member of South Africa’s Golden Eagles parachute team, jumped with the Americans and said he was impressed.
“I’ve been jumping for more than 20 years, and so far my favorite jump has been with the U.S. Golden Knights,” the Pretoria, South Africa, resident said.
Along with meeting South Africans at the air show, Americans had a chance to get out into the local communities.
Some of the New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen visited the Music Academy of Gauten in nearby Benoni with the Wings of Dixie band. The academy was started by South African trumpeter Johnny Mekoa, who specializes in the South African music known as Jozi.
The Guardsmen took the time to interact one-on-one, and collectively, to describe the State Partnership Program with South Africa and to answer questions related to the military, New York State and the United States as a whole.
“The people of South Africa have a deep appreciation for the American people, we learn so much from them and always are excited when such events as this week’s air show and exposition allow such interactions or forums,” said Leonard Mbyucayani, a resident of Pretoria.
The Wings of Dixie band also performed in other engagements around local communities as part of the Youth Development Program, which brought thousands of students to Waterkloof Air Force Base to learn about various job opportunities available to them.
“It was really cool to work with the students and talk to them about what we do and to answer their questions,” said Senior Airman Jaime Molina, who is a security forces airman in Ramstein, Germany.
“We know in our very own country how important math and the sciences are and it is great for the South African Defence Force to allow us the opportunity to interact with their youth, especially from the Umqhele Secondary School district,” said Tech. Sgt. Andre Daparma, a member of the 105th Airlift Wing.
Participating in events like the air show help the United States military work better with other nation’s armed forces. This creates opportunities for more joint training and exercises, cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and peacekeeping, said Laura Alami, a Department of Defense Security Cooperation Agency strategic analyst.
“Sometimes we just don’t know what we can bring to each other until we’re here,” Lt. Gen. Roberson explained. “Every country has its own requirements, capabilities and needs. When you get together, you may find out that a country has a need for something that you have and can supply. You can’t do better than meeting face to face.”