CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - Task Force Aviation conducted a multi-aircraft training operation with their NATO partners from the Croatian Air Force at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, Aug. 6.
The operation aims to improve overall interoperability between NATO partners while preparing TF Aviation for future Kosovo Force operations.
Lt. Col. Christopher Buck said the task force's mission is to provide KFOR
both airlift and air medical evacuation assets to provide safety and mobility, which supports the overall NATO mission in Kosovo. Buck serves as the battalion commander for TF Aviation's 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment.
"We contribute to both freedom of movement and a safe and secure environment within the KFOR area of responsibility," Buck said.
This was TF Aviation's first time working with the Croatian Air Force since KFOR 26's Multinational Battle Group East rotation began in July.
"It was definitely a learning experience for us to see how our partner nations operate," said Chief Warrant Officer 2, Stephen Gayton who serves as an instructor pilot with TF Aviation's 1-171 Avn. Reg. "How they fly their aircraft as well as their overall capabilities is important if we have to operate [with them] in the future."
Cross-training allowed the two aviation forces to maneuver Army Black Hawk helicopters, UH 60, and Croatian Hips transport helicopters, MI 17. The flight patterns they practiced allowed the two Black Hawks to lead and swap flight positions during the training event.
"It's absolutely important that we have as many flights as possible in the area," said Gayton. "That way we will be ready to support any mission set."
Gayton said this operation increases mission readiness and the overall comfort level particularly with multinational partners, including the Croatians. The operation gave both aviation teams confidence in their partnership.
"We even had a discussion earlier about expanding our mission sets and the different types of missions we can support now that we've had this joint training with the Croatian partners," he said.
TF Avn. pilot 1st Lt. Tyler Johnson, a platoon leader with the 1-171 Avn. Reg., said an important aspect of the joint exercise was establishing clear communication with their multinational partners.
"Even though we all speak English, everyone has their own code words and brevity terms," he said. "So an exercise like this was good for how we understand each other and how we operate."
Johnson added that he understands the importance of working with other nations and looks forward to working with them again.
"[The Croatians] are very competent and very good pilots," he said. "I feel very comfortable working with them in the future, especially after an exercise like today."