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158th Fighter Wing Makes History in Austria

The Vermont Air National Guard made history as they arrived in Austria to celebrate the one year anniversary of their State Partnership Program agreement, which saw U.S. F-35s land in Austria for the first time on June 16, 2023.

The agreement is part of a Department of Defense program that pairs countries with a state National Guard, to train and exchange best practices on a military-to-military basis. The relationship between Vermont and Austria was formalized on July 19, 2022.

U.S. Ambassador to Austria, Victoria Kennedy; and Austrian Minister of Defense, Klaudia Tanner; were on hand to witness two of the latest fifth generation fighters arrive to conduct a first ever training exercise between the 158th Fighter Wing and the Austrian Air Force.

“As we heard in Vermont last May and again in Vienna last July, the Vermont National Guard and the Austrian Armed Forces are working together in the State Partnership Program to pursue common security interests,” Kennedy said.

“Importantly, this partnership deepens the already strong relationship between our two countries and makes us better equipped to respond to current and future challenges,” she continued.

In the lead up to the ceremony, Kennedy hosted a reception at her residence in Vienna, welcoming a delegation from the Vermont National Guard led by Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Henry Harder, the air component commander.

Along with Austrian Armed Forces leadership, they praised the positive results of the partnership by recognizing Austrian graduates of U.S. military professional education schools.

Kennedy said it was these types of engagements that deepen the person to person connections that form the strong relationship between the U.S. and Austria.

Ahead of the ceremony, attendees watched the two F-35A Lightning II jets arrive from Germany, where they were participating in Air Defender 2023, a NATO air exercise hosted by Germany and the largest such exercise ever held.

Once in Austria, they conducted a day of training sorties with Austrian Eurofighter Typhoons, flying out of Hinterstoisser Air Base in Zeltwig, the first time Vermont and Austria have flown together.

The ambassador also highlighted other events between Austria and Vermont, include Austria’s Edelweiss Raid mountaineering competition, U.S. Army Ranger exchanges, cyber security exchanges and discussions on green energy, that had all taken place over the previous year.
“By every measure, this partnership has indeed been a huge success,” Kennedy said.

“Vermont and Austria may be separated by an ocean, but we have a lot in common,” Tanner said. “Learning from each other and with each other…for the securities of our countries, has been and will always be, our common goal.”

Harder, along with Vermont State Command Chief Master Sgt. Jeffrey Stebbins, spent the week in Austria meeting with their counterparts in the Austrian Armed Forces leadership.

Austrian Lt. Gen. Erich Csitkovits, commandant of the Austrian Defense Academy, welcomed the Vermonters to the academy for meetings on common priorities. That included a meeting on cyber security with Austrian Maj. Gen. Hermann Kaponig, commander of the Austrian Communication and Information Systems and Cyber Defense Command.

“This is exactly the purpose of the cooperation,” Tanner said. “To improve our skills and to be better prepared for future challenges.”

During the celebration of the one year anniversary of the SPP relationship between Austria and Vermont, Kennedy and Tanner highlighted the success of women in the military breaking barriers and accomplishing firsts.

The minister was presented with a Green Mountain Boys battle flag by Vermont Air National Guard 1st Lt. Kelsey Flannery, the first female F-35 pilot in the Air National Guard.

The flag was flown by Flannery in one of the Vermont F-35s during Air Defender 2023 and was presented to symbolize the friendship between Austria and Vermont.

Austrian Brig. Gen. Gerfried Promberger, commander of the Austrian Air Force, emphasized the commitment to conducting further training between Austrian and Vermont aircraft, enabling both sides to learn how to conduct operations together.

“Experienced gained will be a milestone in the further development of cooperation with different air forces,” Promberger said.

As other European nations already use the F-35, Promberger explained that training with Vermont will help Austria be able to integrate with those units across the continent.

Harder said the training with Austria would start with basic fighter maneuvers and air intercepts, between two Vermont F-35s and two Austrian Typhoons.
“Officers and enlisted will practice their procedures together and share best practices,” Harder said. “And while that is all very important, equally important will be the bonds forged.”

“Going forward, the bonds last,” he continued.

Moving forward, Austria and Vermont have mapped out further training events for both army and air force, after more than 10 events had taken place since the SPP agreement was signed the year before.

Beyond just what the Vermont National Guard can offer, Harder said the door is open to the entire National Guard to ensure any capability request from Austria can be met.

Though the visit was only a week long, Harder praised the Austrians for their hospitality and professionalism, saying how fortunate he was to be able to represent the State of Vermont and the National Guard.

“The future is bright for this partnership,” Harder said.

Source : DVIDS

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