First USAF aircraft lands at Latvian air base

Story and photo by Senior Airman Jonathan Stefanko
Saber Strike 2014 Public Affairs
A C-130J assigned to the 37th Airlift Squadron lands on Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, June 17 as part of the exercise Saber Strike 2014.
A C-130J assigned to the 37th Airlift Squadron lands on Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, June 17 as part of the exercise Saber Strike 2014.

RIGA, Latvia — A Latvian runway was used for the first time by the U.S Air Force when three C-130J models assigned to the 37th Airlift Squadron landed on Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, June 17 as part of a Saber Strike exercise.

Few pilots have the rare opportunity to be the first to land on a new runway, and for Capt. Michael Heddinger, 37th AS pilot, it will be an experience he will never forget.

“It’s really cool to think about being the first to land when there isn’t a lot of runways left in the world that we haven’t already used,” Heddinger said, “especially since the reason we are landing is to work with the Latvian air force and our own Airmen during Saber Strike.”

The 37th AS Airmen brought approximately 92 Airmen from the 435th Contingency Response Group and equipment needed to build a bare base during the Air Force-specific training.

“Our role during the exercise is to support the 435th CRG Airmen as well as the Estonian and Latvian military,” Heddinger said. “We will be conducting personnel and equipment drops that will be needed in building a functioning bare base.”


Providing another location for the U.S. Air Force to conduct exercises with Latvia will provide more opportunities to improve interoperability between the two nations.

“This exercise has been in the works for approximately two years,” said Lt. Col Andrew Roberts, bilateral affairs officer with the Michigan Guard. “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.”

Strengthening a bond more than 20 years old, Latvia and the U.S. aim to improve future joint missions by sharing knowledge and various skill sets during Saber Strike.


Heddinger said adding more opportunities for the Air Force to train with the Baltic nation will build upon joint capabilities, ensuring a much stronger partnership and build on skills needed during joint missions.