KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --
Wolf Pack F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots from the 35th Fighter Squadron practiced combined flying operations alongside counterparts from the Republic of Korea air force’s 11th Fighter Wing, Daegu Air Base, during Buddy Wing 16-7 at Kunsan Air Base, ROK, Nov. 16 to 20.
Buddy Wing training, held multiple times per year, polishes the ability of ROKAF and USAF pilots to train and operate as a combined force.
“It’s very interesting to work with the U.S. Air Force,” Maj. Young Hwan Ahn, 11th Fighter Wing F-15K Slam Eagle pilot and safety flight commander. “We really like it because we’ve learned a lot of things from the Pantons.”
The Buddy Wing program enables both sides to learn from each other, and it’s designed to increase cultural awareness through operating as one force as they integrate mission planning, briefing, flying and debriefing together.
“Training together is more effective than training separately because it gives us an opportunity to ask questions about things we might not initially understand,” Ahn said. “If we go to war together, the training we conduct during the Buddy Wing exercises will help us coordinate better.”
Being able to ask questions not only enables better coordination, but it also helps to fix and prevent mistakes from happening.
“It is necessary for us to get to know and understand each other. The whole game plan involves everybody doing their part,” said 1st Lt. Aaron Koveleskie, 35th Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot and assistant chief of training. “Fighting in a war without the combined training would be similar to having a team with 20 different players who have never practiced together.”
Along with getting to know one another, the Buddy Wing exercises help to actually bridge the gap between hearing a voice in the fuselage and getting to know who you’re flying with on a personal level.
“In addition to the mission planning, the execution and the debriefs, we also hosted social functions to help us get to know each other both personally and professionally,” said Capt. Jake Lowrie, 35th FS F-16 pilot and Buddy Wing 15-7 project officer. “We got to learn and exchange information about where they’re from, who has wives and children, how their path led them to where they are now and vice versa.”
In fact, one of the 11th FW pilots went to the Air Force Academy prior to commissioning with the ROKAF.
“He’s been an asset for us to lean on and he’s been very helpful,” Lowrie said.
As both sides leaned on one another to share their knowledge and skills, they also learned that they had a lot in common.
“Although there will obviously be some challenges relative to one side of the team being American and the other being Korean, we ended up finding that there were a lot more similarities than there were challenges for us,” Koveleskie said. “We’re not that different because we operate in similar ways.”
The 35th Fighter Squadron pilots and their Korean counterparts had capable teams with capable aircraft that were able to get along and understand each other.
“We really like the 35th Fighter Squadron pilots,” Hahn said. “They’ve been extremely helpful to us, which was the best part. Not only do we have a better image of the US, but we really hope to see more of this training in the future.”