US, Vietnam bolster partnership, future with first-ever SMEE

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. JT May
  • Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs

Six U.S. Air Force air advisors assigned to the 36th Contingency Response Group at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, along with 24 service members from the Vietnamese Air Defense Air Force and U.S. Embassy Hanoi conducted the first-ever Subject Matter Expert Exchange in Nha Trang, Vietnam September 11-13, 2017.

The exchange was hosted at the Air Force Academy in Vietnam and was part of Pacific Angel 17-2. PACANGEL 17 is a joint and combined humanitarian assistance engagement led by Pacific Air Forces.

This exercise enhances participating nations’ humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities while providing beneficial services to people in need throughout Southeast Asia.

“By working with partner nations, we can be better prepared for humanitarian relief, suppose a typhoon hits and the CRG help is requested, we are already familiar with their processes and we can assist more efficiently, said Master Sgt. Mark Hoover, 36th CRG flight chief, strategic plans.

The overall theme of the SMEE centered around disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, however, the air advisors implemented pilot progression, air traffic control, Bird/wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard, aviation safety and maintenance, all within a three-day window.

Prior to the SMEE, Maj Jack Smith, mission commander, and Master Sgt. Drew Spradley, operations superintendent, both 36th CRG, attended Airman-to-Airman (A2A) talks with Vietnamese Air Defense Air Force members in Hanoi, Vietnam Aug 21-24.  A2A talks are designed to foster military-to-military relationships with regional partners to pave the way for potential future collaborations.

Smith, Spradley and their Vietnamese counterparts established an atmosphere of open communication. During those meetings, additional areas were identified based on needs and interests.

The information gained from A2A was invaluable because the SMEE was tailored even more to accommodate both parties.

“We were able to refine our focus during the Airman-to-Airman talks, which set the precedent for our mutual interest of partnership,” said Smith. “By working collaboratively, we identified additional topics for the Subject Matter Expert Exchange, it was truly a joint effort.”

From day one, the air advisors and VADAF ability to seamlessly communicate their experiences and specialties during the SMEE transcended language barriers.

Master Sgt. Ken Kent, 36th CRG flight chief of training, and former aircraft maintenance instructor, used his extensive background, wit and humor to highlight aircraft safety, maintenance, and inspections.

The air advisor’s effort and attention to detail were well received.

“This SMEE is different because it’s very open and we can talk and exchange things, it has been very easy because we can focus on the subject-matter, said VADAF chief of staff.

Hoover and a VADAF officer each presented general BASH overviews by request. Hoover spoke to what he could, but also addressed the need for a subject matter expert in this field. More importantly, the air advisors could compare programs to up-channel information for possible future engagement opportunities.

Hoover is airfield management by trade, but instantly recognized the importance of going the extra mile for partnerships, because it goes hand-in-hand with building trust.

“We can use we have learned during this SMEE to share information between our pilots and Airmen so we can transfer combined U.S. Air Forces and Vietnamese experiences and knowledge at all levels to make a bigger impact,” said VADAF chief of staff.

This is one of many examples where both air forces collaborated to overcome barriers.

Whether it was pilot progression, air traffic control, Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard, aviation safety and maintenance, this SMEE proved we share common practices. One of the unifying themes was the value placed behind our most crucial resource, the people.

“It’s awesome how similar our Air Forces are, everything we do revolve around safety rather you’re talking about aircraft or Airmen,” said Kent. “Safety procedures are universal and empower everyone at all levels to make the right decision, which ultimately saves lives.

PACANGEL builds partnerships between regional nations by conducting multilateral humanitarian assistance and civil-military operations, promoting regional military-civilian non governmental organization cooperation and interoperability.

“Without the dedicated coordination of the Vietnamese Air Force, Embassy and CRG, this engagement would not have been possible,” said Maj. Daniel Knappmiller, air attaché to Vietnam. “The shared expertise, and manpower established a great framework to convey shared concepts that we can build upon for future engagements.”