Friday, November 12, 2010
US, French pilots swap, bump elbows on first deployment
French Air Force Maj. Yann Malard exits an A-10C Thunderbolt II after a mission Nov. 10, 2010, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Major Malard, from Nancy, France, is an assistant duty officer with the 75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron. He is deployed with the American unit as part of the three-year foreign exchange pilot program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Chad Chisholm) Hi-res
by Senior Airman Melissa B. White
451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
11/12/2010 - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- A U.S. Air Force pilot traded spaces with a French Air Force pilot who moved into a different American flying squadron, but now both are serving simultaneously at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on their first deployments with the new units.
"I never thought we'd be here at the same time, especially on our first deployments," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Skyler Hester, an instructor pilot currently assigned to the French 1/3 Fighter Squadron. "We're doing great things out here, supporting the ongoing missions, and I'm hearing that they've absorbed him pretty well in his new squadron."
Major Hester, originally an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, is now operating the French Air Force's Mirage 2000D aircraft. He took the place of Maj. Yann Malard, who is now with the 75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron currently deployed from Moody, Air Force Base, Ga., flying the A-10C Thunderbolt II. Both made the swap under the foreign exchange pilot program.
"We do this so we can learn how our partner nations execute the mission with the similarities and differences we have," said Major Hester. "We fight the same war, we do it in the same places and we just absorb and learn how they operate and overcome challenges; it formulates bonds between the countries."
Both pilots arrived into Afghanistan within two weeks of each other. Major Malard arrived at the end of September and Major Hester arrived in October. However, there is a major difference between the two assignments: Major Malard is here with his unit for six months, whereas Major Hester's unit is here for two months, and he said both have their advantages and disadvantages.
"It's nice being out here for only two months, but these guys come out here more frequently than the American units," said Major Hester, who hails from Kalaheo, Hawaii. "However, with the longer deployments you get more familiarization with the mission and area and more of an experience, but it adds to the cost our families pay."
Major Hester is flying the Mirage 2000D, the French's conventional air-to-ground, close-air support aircraft. It is a two-seater aircraft which Major Hester described as being "incredibly similar to the F-16 in its basic systems."
Major Malard is flying the A-10, which is known for its maneuverability at low speeds and low altitudes to provide close-air support for troops in contact.
"The A-10 is a fantastic aircraft," said Major Malard, who hails from Nancy, France. "It's a lot slower than the Mirage, but the good thing is that you're able to work lower and feel closer to the guys on the ground. It's really important for us to have that connection with the ground forces."
This deployment, however, isn't their first run-in with each other. When Major Hester first arrived at his assignment in France, Major Malard was still there.
"Before he left, we ran a mission together but in separate aircraft and we fought basic fighter movements against each other," said Major Hester, who hasn't seen the pilot much since then. "He seems like he'd be a great A-10 guy and I heard that he absorbed into the squadron very well."
Already a good portion into their three-year exchange program, the pilots have developed relationships and learned more about the new cultures that constantly surround them.
"I like working with the Americans and sharing their culture," said Major Malard. "9/11 had a huge impact in France too, and we have been close to the U.S. Us working together like this is proof that two countries can be so close together. I also appreciate the way the squadron and their wives have accepted and helped me and my family."
With the constant demand for close-air support throughout Afghanistan, there's no telling when and if these two pass each other in the sky again.
"It's an amazing feeling to be supporting our ground troops," said Major Malard. "It's the same way I felt when I was flying the Mirage ... and the French, Italian, German or anyone else probably feel the same way. I'm glad to be there to help when the ground forces need it the most."
French Air Force Maj. Yann Malard takes off in an A-10C Thunderbolt II, Nov. 10, 2010, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Major Malard, from Nancy, France, is an assistant duty officer with the 75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron. Major Malard is deployed with the American unit as part of the three-year foreign exchange pilot program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Chad Chisholm) Hi-res
Note: Pictured is A-10C 79-0139 from the 75th Fighter Squadron. Sniper XR targeting pod on station 2.