RIGA, Latvia — The hum of propellers fills the airfield as the outside world is still silent and waking. It is 4 a.m. and sunny with clouds scattered across the Baltic sky. Twelve Airmen work diligently, reviewing checklists and running inspections, as fuel is pumped into two C-130J Super Hercules aircraft before another busy day.
Airmen from the 37th Airlift Squadron out of Ramstein represent just one of the units deployed to the Baltic countries to participate in Saber Strike ’16, a 13-country NATO training exercise held annually.
From overseeing passenger safety and comfort to ensuring proper airlift operations for NATO allies, the C-130J team is the center of cargo and personnel movement for the exercise.
The 37th AS conducted formation low-level airdrop training, assault landings and takeoffs on unimproved airfields, air landed U.S. Army Humvees and carried Army paratroopers for a static-line jump training exercise June 12 to 22.
“This exercise is important because it’s a lot harder to get this type of training in Germany,” said Capt. Doug Mabe, SbS16 C-130J mission commander. “The air space is more restrictive, and we have tighter timelines that we have to meet. We can also fly lower and to more locations here than in Germany.
“It’s a great chance to explore new training opportunities with our NATO allies and build bilateral partnerships with our Army brethren,” Mabe continued.
These exercises usually go seamlessly for the team, but that is due to extensive preparation and planning involving many moving parts.
“We’re not at home station, so we have to bring everything that we need with us,” Mabe said. “This ranges from maintenance support to weather and intelligence.”
According to Senior Airman Sarah Meadows, 37th AS loadmaster, this training not only allows them to hone their skills but also brings them closer as a unit.
“It is rewarding to see how well we interact and operate with our NATO allies,” Meadows said. “Seeing how seamlessly the exercise is going is pretty satisfying. Also, camaraderie is at an all time high while participating in these forward-training deployments, as you get to bond and work with the same crew for a few weeks at a time and build trust with crew members you may not work with very often.”
Flying training deployments are a great opportunity for younger Airmen to grow with exposure to these types of exercises, Mabe explained.
“Seeing new and younger aircrew get a chance to develop their skill set and train in challenging environments versus back home where it can be the same things over and over is the most rewarding part for me personally,” Mabe said. “It’s great to see new people come out and challenge themselves and learn new things.”
This Ramstein team has a significant role in the U.S. Air Force’s forward presence in Europe, allowing work with allies to develop and improve capabilities of maintaining regional security.