Total Force: Building partnerships in Africa

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Ryan Crane
  • USAFE-AFAFRICA Public Affairs
More than 100,000 people came out to the Africa Aerospace and Defence Expo at Waterkloof Air Force Base, South Africa, Sept. 14-18.

The U.S. Air Force called upon its total force of Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve Command and active duty Airmen to support the bi-annual event at the request of the U.S. Embassy in South Africa.

Attendees had the opportunity to see and tour U.S. aircraft while talking to the crews about the capabilities of each one. The aircraft on display included a C-17 Globemaster III, MQ-9 Reaper and an HC-130P/N King from New York, Air National Guard; a KC-135 Stratotanker from Tinker AFB, Oklahoma; and a C-130J Super Hercules from Keesler AFB, Mississippi.

The message the U.S. brought to Africa was one of partnership and building relationships.

“We’re here because we’re Air Forces Africa, and Africa is a huge strategic partner,” said Lt. Col. Bradley Brandt, assistant air boss for the U.S. “They are assisting us to combat terrorism in northern Africa, and South Africa has a part in that. There are also 30 other African nations here, so there is opportunity to engage with them and discuss airpower solutions for many countries in Africa.”

It’s these partnerships that continue to strengthen the bond the U.S. has with Africa. The New York Air National Guard was chosen specifically to support this event because South Africa is their state partner. The state partnership program pairs U.S. states with countries around the world to train together and foster relationships.

“With New York partnering up with South Africa for the state partnership program, it makes sense to bring the Guard guys that work with the community more,” said 1st Lt. Toby Vanholtz, HC-130 Combat Systems Officer from the 102nd Rescue Squadron. “They bring us down to showcase what we can do with our partners.”

The expo wasn’t just an opportunity for the U.S. and Africa to work together but for the U.S. Air Force total force to hone their skills. Typically, events like this will have a mix of active duty, National Guard and AFRC aircraft, but this event was supported entirely without active duty aircraft.

“We have our total force partners,” said Brandt, “and they are extremely important. Active duty is at one of our smallest sizes since WWII and we can’t do it without our total for partners. Not just with trade shows and airshows, but real world combat operations going on, having them as partners to do the mission. We couldn't do it without them.”

The active duty side did have a role to play in this event, though. They provided the leadership, coordination and handled logistics to organize aircraft from three states to make it to South Africa.

“I was tasked to communicate with all of the Guard and Reserve units,” said Master Sgt. Randy James, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa command engine manager. “As the active duty component I was able to engage on a daily basis to ensure mission success. We’re the continuity between all of the units, making sure all of the logistics move along.”

Logistics handles the nitty-gritty details of an event or operation. People like James play an integral role in the success of these types of events due to their ability to look at past events and learn from them.

“One of the logistics challenges we encountered here,” James explained, “is the infrastructure here doesn't support liquid oxygen (LOX). There is no aviation grade liquid oxygen. We talked to the Syracuse C-17 crew and they agreed to bring enough liquid oxygen for the C-130s and their own use. The previous expo they had to engineer a fitting so they could use medical grade LOX, because LOX is not a commodity here.”

Because of this logistics support, the event continued smoothly, making it an enjoyable experience for all involved. U.S. Airmen could hardly walk 10 feet without being asked to pose for a photo with enthusiastic fans. The warm reception from the people of South Africa has been the highlight for most Airmen.

“The people are amazingly nice,” said Capt. Kyle Putty, KC-135 instructor pilot from Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. “Just an extremely warm welcome from everyone here.”

Thousands of people lined up to get a look at the aircraft and meet with American Airmen. Many people said they were so excited to meet the Airmen because they had only ever seen the American military in movies.

“The best part about this whole event is the people here,” said Vanholtz. “They have been very supportive, so I have to tip my hat to South Africa for that.”

In some cases, the U.S. presence had a profound impact on the lives of the younger generation.

“I heard one of the crew members who was talking to a teenager,” said James, “and the teenager said to him that sitting in the cockpit of a C-17 was the best thing that has ever happened to him in his life. To me, that makes me proud to be here supporting this.”