REAL THAW 14 comes to a close Published Feb. 14, 2014 By 2nd Lt. Allie Delury 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- After two weeks of participating in large force exercises with various NATO militaries, the 555th Fighter Squadron officially completed their inaugural year of REAL THAW on Feb. 14, 2014, at Monte Real Air Base, Portugal. The closing ceremonies allowed service members from the U.S., Portugal, Netherlands and NATO to debrief on different aspects of the exercise. Col. Alberto Francisco, Monte Real AB commander, along with commanders from the 555th, 201st and 301st Fighter Squadrons were in attendance to congratulate superior performers and reiterate some lessons learned from the exercise. "Even despite the challenging weather, the 555th Fighter Squadron has accomplished their individual goals and qualifications," said Lt. Col. John Peterson, 555th FS commander. "More importantly, the joint training that we set out to accomplish has been a success both in the air and on the ground." Col. Eurico Craveiro, Portuguese Air Command air operations director, gave the opening remarks for the ceremony, highlighting the teamwork and camaraderie of the various militaries who dedicated 420 hours and 203 missions to REAL THAW 14. "Our main objective was to deliver a very complex and dynamic exercise scenario," said Craveiro. "Many agencies that were involved faced a very demanding range of operations during the day and into the night." Prior to the closing ceremony, REAL THAW 14 participants also had an opportunity to socialize with their Portuguese counterparts during a Feb. 13 barbeque. After working with the U.S. embassy in Portugal and performing at various train stations in Lisbon, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe band travelled north to Monte Real AB to perform in front of REAL THAW 14 participants. According to Staff Sgt. Jill Marie Diem, USAFE band vocalist, this is their first time performing in Portugal in approximately ten years. "Part of our mission is troop morale and support, so it's always important whenever we go to other countries and work with embassies that we also get a chance to work with the military," said Diem. "It just so happened that the U.S. Air Force was here at the same time we were. So we were able to come up and perform for the finale of REAL THAW 14." Throughout both ceremonies, leadership from the Portuguese and U.S. military reiterated the value of international exercises and the need to continue promoting interoperability in the future. "The biggest takeaway is that we need to come back, because the time spent here has been invaluable," said Peterson. "The Portuguese Air Force is extremely proficient, extremely professional and extremely capable. They are definitely an ally we can rely on." To view REAL THAW 14 slideshow click here.