International participants add 'flavor' to Air Mobility Rodeo 2011

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- At the opening ceremonies for Air Mobility Rodeo here July 24, service members from more than 25 nations were among the nearly 3,000 mobility personnel in formation around the McChord Field flightline.

Those international partners each carried their country's flag to their formations, creating what one person announced as a "sea of flavorful colors." That may also describe what the international partners bring to the Rodeo 2011 environment: flavor.

There are seven countries participating in events at Rodeo: Belgium, Netherlands, Pakistan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Sweden. Additionally, there are more than 20 countries observing the competition, including Argentina, Australia and Canada, as well as India, Israel, Poland, Singapore and New Zealand. For the first time, the African nations of Algeria, Botswana, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa are observers for Rodeo. They also attended the International Airdrop Symposium that was a lead-in event to Rodeo 2011.

Lt. Col. David Mackenzie, the deputy director for U.S. Air Forces Africa's plans and requirements directorate at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is working with the African observers at Rodeo. He said their participation at the symposium and observing Rodeo is critical to partnership building not only internationally, but also for the African Union.

"For the attendees from Africa, they are looking to build or improve upon an airdrop capability for their air forces," Mackenzie said during the symposium, which also took place here July 19-21. "By attending ... these five countries gain insight to procedures and methods of airdrop.

"More specifically, their attendance also helps them understand more about humanitarian airdrops in support to the African Union," Mackenzie said. "In the long term, it's about Africans helping Africans from the knowledge they gain here."

South African air force officer Lt. Col. Pine Pieneaar, who as an observer will not only learn from the airdrop symposium but also from observing Rodeo airdrop events, noted the importance of airdrops.

"The value of airdrops in humanitarian missions cannot be underestimated," Pieneaar said. "Although the cost (of airdrops) may be high, the value of human life is higher."

Though some like Pieneaar are at Rodeo 2011 for the first time, others are making repeat appearances. For Adjutant Joris Retty, a C-130 loadmaster from the Belgium air force, this year marks his third Rodeo. He was previously here in 2005 and 2009. When one of his teammates fell ill, he jumped at the chance to come back and help coach the rest of his team.

"Nothing motivates me more than the spirit of competition," the E-7 said. "It's great to meet people from other nations and socialize. I actually went to loadmaster school at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas, so it's nice to be back in America. I can't wait to get started."

Besides the opening ceremonies for Rodeo, the first event that included the international competitors was the "Fit to Fight" competition. This event has five-person teams complete push-ups, sit-ups and a mile-and-a-half run.

During that first event, one observer stated, "Spectators cheered, waved banners and even dressed in costumes," and, "chants in several languages also echoed all around."

It's that "flavor" that was reflected in Col. R. Wyn Elder's welcome to the teams in the opening ceremonies.

"To all teams and our international participants, we are honored by your presence today at our competition," said Elder, who is the 62nd Airlift Wing command at McChord Field. "Let camaraderie define victory."

(Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski and Senior Airman Abigail Klein also contributed to this story.)