JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- For years, the country of Burkina Faso has been a key strategic partner of the United States in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa. According to the U.S. State Department's official website, the two countries share significant common interests including countering terrorism, improving human rights and promoting continued democratization on the African continent.
In an effort to build upon their partnership, the U.S. and Burkinabe defense forces have engaged in a number of military training and exchange initiatives.
One of the most recent opportunities for training occurred last week when Airmen from the 811th Operations Support Squadron hosted a team of Burkinabe Air Force pilots and aircraft maintainers for an immersion tour of the UH-1N Iroquois Helicopter ("Huey") Sept. 26-28, here.
"The Burkina Faso Air Force recently purchased two American-made UH-1H helicopters and they had requested guidance on best practices for owning, operating and maintaining a helicopter fleet," said Capt. Justin Colby, 811th OSS UH-1N pilot who represented the squadron as facilitator for the immersion tour.
The 811th OSS' 1st Helicopter Squadron operates a fleet of the N model, light-lift utility helicopters to conduct no-fail, high-priority airlift missions and provide contingency response capabilities in the National Capital Region.
Colby added that although the UH-1H and UH-1N model aircraft have distinct differences - for example, the former employs a single engine, while the latter is powered by a twin engine - the Burkinabes would still benefit greatly from an immersion tour of the N model.
For the several days of the familiarization training, 811th OSS Airmen shared their expertise about the "Huey" with the African partners, in particular the principles of flight operations, maintenance, aerial medical evacuation and qualifications training.
Much of the learning occurred in a briefing room where, with the aid of a U.S. Air Force French language translator, the Burkinabe Airmen listened to briefings and asked questions related to operating a helicopter fleet. Other aspects of the tour involved the Burkinabes piloting a flight simulator and riding as passengers in a two-hour flight around the nation’s capital.
"From their questions, you could tell the Burkinabes were very engaged and focused during the tour," said Colby. "It was clear to me they want to make their air force better."
Maj. Seth Michael Sarduy, Office of Security Cooperation chief, serves as the liaison between the Burkina Faso and U.S. defense departments; he escorted the Burkinabe Airmen during their immersion tour. Speaking of their behalf, Sarduy said the Burkinabe Airmen were very impressed with how the 811th OSS conducted its flight operations.
"The Burkinabe Airmen loved every aspect (of the tour)," Sarduy said. "A couple of their key takeaways were how the U.S. Air Force formalized its aircrew training and the criteria used to determine instructors and evaluators."
The U.S. Air Force assigns the UH-1N Iroquois Helicopter to other Air Force units around the country, such as the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., the 36th Rescue Flight at Fairchild AFB, Wash., and the 91st Missile Wing at Minot AFB, N. D.
Sarduy said the expertise of the 811th OSS with the UH-1N model is unmatched.
"It makes a lot of sense to bring the Burkinabes to Joint Base Andrews to become more proficient with their Hueys," Sarduy said. "The 811th is the premier UH-1N squadron in the U.S. Air Force."
Sarduy added that this tour is the first of several interactions scheduled between the Burkinabe Air Force and the 811th OSS.
"We'll follow up this immersion tour with future military-to-military engagements during FY 2018 to include assessments of the Burkinabe's abilities to maintain their aircraft and perform aerial medical evacuation,” Sarduy said.