Making friends in South Africa

by Staff Sgt. David Dobrydney
U.S. Air Forces Africa Public Affairs

WATERKLOOF AIR FORCE BASE, South Africa ― Nearly 45,000 people came out to see aerial demonstrations and static aircraft displays at the 2011 Waterkloof Air Show Oct. 1.

One of the biggest draws, however, was a group of American Airmen and their aircraft invited by the South African Air Force.

The visiting aircraft included a KC-135 Stratotanker, HC-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III. Additionally, the USAFE band Touch ‘n’ Go performed for the crowd.

“I was like ‘whoa, what’s going on?’” said Janine Frischmuth of Durban, South Africa, when she heard the band’s music. As her hometown doesn’t often host live musical acts, she considered Touch ‘n’ Go as much of a draw as the aircraft.
The Stratotanker came from the 171st Air Refueling Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich.

Lt. Col. Paul Beck, 171st ARS chief pilot, said events such as this help strengthen links between air services of different nations, such as interoperability during contingencies.

“You get to develop contacts that might be able to help facilitate any future activities,” he said.

Capt. Todd Wasilewski, 171st ARS aircraft commander, mentioned another important aspect: building a positive relationship with the non-military population.

“A lot of these people, especially the civilians, have never had any interaction with Americans before, let alone American Soldiers or (U.S.) Air Force members, so the only time they ever see these jets is on CNN or Fox News and they get a different perception of what we do and who we are,” Wasilewski said.

The reaction from the air show attendees was very positive, with lines snaking across the flightline to view the aircraft and inquisitive air buffs asking all sorts of questions. For Airman 1st Class Callie Rank, the experience was a new and very positive one. The security forces Airman, assigned to the New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing, was tasked to help provide security for the aircraft during the show.

“Everyone here has been really nice,” Rank said. “They’ve been asking about the aircraft, they’ve been asking me for pictures and even autographs.”

Meanwhile, the Van Amerom family from the nearby town of Pretoria has attended the Waterkloof Air Show for five years, but this is the first time they’ve had the opportunity to see and tour a U.S. Air Force aircraft. Elmien Van Amerom found the Airmen very welcoming and eager to talk about their aircraft.

“Most of the time, pilots are very stiff,” she said. “But (the American Airmen) don’t mind answering questions.”

Van Amerom’s son Phillip, 9, also enjoyed the tour of the Stratotanker, even getting to sit in the cockpit. Phillip doesn’t speak English as a first language, however as he exited the aircraft after his tour, he did say one English phrase he knew: “That was very cool!”