Massachusetts National Guard, Paraguay advance partnership during military-to-military exchange

  • Published
  • By Capt. Evan C. Lagasse
  • 102nd Intelligence Wing Public Affairs
The Massachusetts National Guard hosted five Paraguayan air force helicopter pilots, including the first female Paraguayan air force pilot, for a military-to-military exchange focusing on Bambi Bucket operations here, Aug. 28, 2012.

Part of the National Guard's 20-year-old State Partnership Program (SPP), the military-to-military exchange featured Massachusetts Army National Guard aviation Soldiers, from Army Aviation Support Facility number one (AASF 1), providing Bambi Bucket and UH-60 Blackhawk briefings and operational displays, while two Massachusetts Air National Guard Airmen from the 102nd Intelligence Wing served as English-Spanish translators.

A Bambi Bucket is a water transporting device which is attached to the underside of a helicopter, lowered into a water source until full, flown to and subsequently opened to release the water on a fire.

Both the Massachusetts National Guard and Paraguayan air force operate the Bambi Bucket for firefighting operations with the primary difference being the aircraft used to fly the missions; the Paraguayan air force flies the UH-1H Huey.

Shortly before the first flight of the day, excitement was in the air and it was evident the opportunity to work together and exchange ideas was valued by all participants.

"I am very proud to be here. It is a privilege and very productive to come in and share information; taking new ideas home to share in Paraguay," said 2nd Lt. Lilian Rossana Mosqueira Romero, the first female Paraguayan air force pilot.

"It's a great opportunity to be a part of this partnership. Anything we can do with allies of the United States is great. I've been involved with this partnership one other time but this is my first time directly involved with an operational exchange," said Maj. Robert O'Connell, AASF 1 commander, and a 15-year veteran of the Massachusetts Army National Guard.

After the Paraguayan pilots observed five Bambi Bucket flights from the ground and aboard the Blackhawk, they headed to the mission planning room where the fellow aviators discussed flight planning, flight approval and how to decrease operational risk to the lowest level while they planned a Blackhawk orientation flight to and around Boston.

Shortly after takeoff for Boston, the Massachusetts National Guard aviators demonstrated Blackhawk tactical maneuvers -- akin to an amusement park rollercoaster ride -- which resulted in a helicopter full of clapping, picture-taking, and ear-to-ear smiling Paraguayan and U.S. Airmen.

As with all military operations, meticulous planning is critical for success and there is a Massachusetts National Guardsmen at the heart of it all. Captain Florangel Merten has served as the U.S. Southern Command activities coordinator for Paraguay for the last two years, working in the U.S. Embassy in Asuncion, Paraguay.

"I think they loved it. It was the first time they've actually been in a Blackhawk. Everything we do is to learn from each other, to build camaraderie and a lasting connection. It is all about relationship building," Merten said.

Through the SPP, each state in the U.S. as well as Puerto Rico and D.C. are teamed with one or two countries with a goal of facilitating cooperation across all aspects of civilian-military affairs and encouraging people-to-people ties at the state level.

Massachusetts and Paraguay have been partners through the National Guard SPP since 2001 and have conducted approximately 25 exchanges in Massachusetts and Paraguay over the past two years.