Until next time, Greece: Stolen Cerberus VII concludes

An Airman assigned to the 86th Maintenance Squadron marshals a C-130J Super Hercules to its spot at Elefsis Air Base, Greece, during Operation Stolen Cerberus VII, Sept. 14. Airmen and C-130s assigned to the 86th Airlift Wing participated in a bilateral training event with Hellenic armed forces from Sept. 8-20.

ELEFSIS AIR BASE, Greece — Stolen Cerberus VII, a two-week bilateral training deployment between the U.S. and Hellenic armed forces, ended Sept. 20.

“It’s been absolutely phenomenal to see everybody work together with a common goal,” said Chief Master Sgt. Marc Gonsalves, 37th Airlift Squadron chief enlisted manager.

More than 100 U.S. personnel supported the event, including Ramstein Airmen from the 37th AS, 86th Maintenance Squadron, the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing and the 4th Air Support Operations Group, as well as Airmen from the 57th Rescue Squadron from Aviano Air Base, Italy.

Exercise participants came together as one during this two-week journey, learning about each other, their host nation, and how their job contributes to the mission away from home.

“The biggest thing I learned was that each Airman is a huge piece in the whole operation,” said Master Sgt. Natalie Caballero, 37th AS first sergeant. “Whether it’s public affairs or maintenance or the port dogs. Even the tiniest job has a huge impact. Without one, it will never work.”

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Cecilia Bak, 435th Contingency Response Squadron aerial porter, right, poses for a photo alongside Senior Airman Felix Puello Polanco, 435th Contingency Response Squadron, far left, and Senior Airman John Houston, left, 435th CRS aerial porters, at Elefsis Air Base, Greece, during Operation Stolen Cerberus VII, Sept. 15.

Another important aspect of forward total deployments is building partner capacity with Greece. Multiple units from the Hellenic armed forces supported the exercise, including the 865th Aerial Delivery Battalion and the 31st Search and Rescue Squadron.

“They treated us like family,” said Capt. John Hopkins, 37th Airlift Squadron pilot and Stolen Cerberus VII mission commander. “The relationships were what made this (exercise) great to be on. Hopefully we made some lifetime friends.”

Together, the U.S. Air Force and the Hellenic armed forces accomplished many objectives, such as a distinguished visitor flight with the U.S. ambassador to the Hellenic Republic, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, and Chief of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff, General Konstantinos Floros. The flight also involved a four-ship maneuver with three C-130J Super Hercules aircraft and one Hellenic C-130H successfully flying over Athens, Greece.

The U.S. Air Force also successfully deployed multiple low cost, low altitude and high velocity container delivery system airdrops, and paratroopers from both countries performed jumps from aircraft for certification.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Paul Sandefur, 283rd Air National Guard Combat Communications Squadron radio frequency transmission craftsman, and Staff Sgt. Ian Shirey, 242nd Air National Guard Combat Communications Squadron radio frequency transmissions journeyman, pose for a photo during Stolen Cerberus VII at Elefsis Air Base, Greece, Sept. 17.

One of the new challenges participants had to face during Stolen Cerberus VII was COVID-19. Host nation guidelines required each member to test negative for the virus before entering the country.

“Our medical team did a great job of coming together and getting everybody tested,” said Maj. Michael Bakke, Stolen Cerberus VII detachment commander.

Stolen Cerberus is an annual exercise, and leadership is already looking at ways the exercise can be improved next year.

“Our schedule was a little too jam-packed,” Bakke said. “We need to space out operations to be a little more efficient.”

Overall, Hopkins is proud of what the team accomplished.

“Thanks to everyone who made this a success,” Hopkins said. “Whether they were able to be out here in person or even if they were coordinating in an email, it’s taken a huge amount of effort from too many (places) to count.”