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Ecuador Air Force members visit Kentucky Air Guard

Five members of the Ecuador Air Force prepare to board a 123rd Airlift Wing C-130 for a local training flight at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Feb. 16, 2012. The Airmen were in Kentucky as part of a National Guard State Partnership Subject Matter Expert Exchange. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Philip Speck.)

Five members of the Ecuador Air Force prepare to board a 123rd Airlift Wing C-130 for a local training flight at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Feb. 16, 2012. The Airmen were in Kentucky as part of a National Guard State Partnership Subject Matter Expert Exchange. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Philip Speck.)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Five members of the Ecuador Air Force visited the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in mid-February to observe C-130 operations and participate in a week long Subject Matter Expert Exchange.

The event focused on aircraft operations and safety, with the shared goal of enhancing the overall operational effectiveness of Ecuador's C-130 program, said Maj. Shawn Keller, director the Kentucky National Guard's State Partnership Program.

All the visitors were experienced aircrew members, with a mix of pilots and flight engineers participating in the event. Five traditional Guard members from Kentucky's 165th Airlift Squadron were on hand for the week to help host the exchange.

Ecuador currently has four C-130 aircraft in its inventory: an H1 model, an L100 -- the civilian version of the C-130 -- and two older B models, both of which were once assigned to and flown by the Kentucky Air Guard.

"The State Partnership hosted its last C-130 Subject Matter Expert Exchange in February 2011," Keller said. "That event focused primarily on aircraft maintenance. This time around, the visit was tailored specifically to operations with an emphasis on safety, training, mission planning and night-vision capabilities. Night vision goggles are a capability that Ecuador's Air Force does not currently have, but they do have a keen interest in acquiring NVG systems for their C-130s in the future. "

Keller said the highlight of the exchange was a series of orientation flights that gave the Ecuadorians a rare opportunity to fly along with Kentucky Air Guard crews on actual NVG training missions.

"I've never flown with NVG," said Capt. Marco Martinez, an Ecuador Air Force C-130 pilot. "It's a very important experience. It's a big advantage to have NVGs to fly precisely in very low altitudes."

In addition to the orientation flights and an in-depth look at the day-to-day operations of the 165th Airlift Squadron, the Ecuadorians were provided with a short tour and capabilities briefing from the wing's Aircraft Maintenance operations, 123rd Contingency Response Group and 123rd Special Tactics Squadron.

1st Sgt. Hernan Revelo, an Ecuador Air Force C-130 flight engineer, said all of the material presented was "great and helpful to know," and he plans to share it with new C-130 crew members back in Ecuador.

The visitors also were treated to plenty of Kentucky hospitality during their stay, with visits to Fort Knox, Ky., and a private tour of the Maker's Mark Bourbon Distillery in Loretto, Ky., Keller said.

Lt. Col. Pete Jacob, Air Force section chief of the U.S. Military Group, Ecuador, escorted the visitors to Kentucky. Col. Jared Curtis, air attaché to Ecuador, also accompanied the group to observe the event and assess the capabilities that the Kentucky Air National Guard has to offer for future exchanges, Keller said.

"The Kentucky National Guard State Partnership began in 1996, and it continues to be a vibrant and valuable relationship for both the Republic of Ecuador and Kentucky," he added.

C-130 exchanges have been a regular event since the early days of the partnership, and both parties say they look forward to continuing them well into the future.

"Our Ecuador partners have been able to see how another unit does business, how we mitigate shared concerns and how the problems we encounter are very similar to the ones they encounter," said Lt. Col. Jim Nelson, a Kentucky Air National Guard C-130 pilot.

"Seeing how we solve those problems gives them a fresh perspective on how they can do the same, by modifying some of our procedures and policies to fit their program and enhance their capabilities, reliability and safety."