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C-130Js record a first with landing at Latvian base

Jun. 19, 2014 - 07:23PM   |  
First USAF aircraft to land at Latvian Air Base
A C-130J assigned to the 37th Airlift Squadron lands June 17 on Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia. (Senior Airman Jonathan Stefanko/Air Force)
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U.S. Army Europe-led Exercise Saber Strike 2014 comes to a close this week, with at least one “first” on its record.

On Tuesday, three Air Force C-130Js assigned to the 37th Airlift Squadron, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, became the first U.S. aircraft to use a runway at the newly renovated Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia.

“It’s really cool to think about being the first to land when there aren’t a lot of runways left in the world that we haven’t already used,” said Capt. Michael Heddinger, 37th AS pilot, in a news release. “Especially since the reason we are landing is to work with the Latvian Air Force and our own airmen during Saber Strike.”

The squadron transported approximately 92 airmen from the 435th Contingency Response Group, also from Ramstein, and equipment needed to build a bare base during the Air Force-specific training, according to the release.

A bare base includes runways, taxiways or air terminal facilities that can be used in contingency operations. Service members can transform a bare base into an operational base as needed in foreign countries.

“This exercise has been in the works for approximately two years,” said Lt. Col Andrew Roberts, bilateral affairs officer with the Michigan Air National Guard, which provided KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft for the exercise. “It’s important that we have this capability here so we can develop the skills required to open the base and receive aircraft. It also represents taking the next step toward increasing the development of the air base’s infrastructure.”

Providing another location for the Air Force to conduct exercises with Latvia will provide more opportunities to improve future joint missions between the two nations, the release said.

Saber Strike 2014,which began June 9,took place in multiple locations in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, with approximately 4,500 personnel and 10 NATO and partner countries participating. U.S. Air Forces Europe personnel from the 435th CRG provided aerial port capabilities. Also participating were airmen from the 606th Air Control Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and from the 100th Air Refueling Wing, Royal Air Force Mildenhall, United Kingdom.

The Minnesota Air National Guard provided F-16 close air support aircraft, and both the Michigan and Pennsylvania Air National Guard provided KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft.

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