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Being an ambassador is a privilege

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Matthew Baker
  • 375th Logistics Readiness Squadron commander
Before arriving at Scott I was extremely fortunate to experience the assignment of a lifetime ... Australia.

Not only was I stationed in Australia at Royal Australian Air Force Base Glenbrook, about an hour west of Sydney, but it was a 42 month tour. The Australians are some of the friendliest people I've ever met, and living in such a beautiful country with great sunny weather it's easy to see why.

You may ask what I was doing there in such a wonderful location on official orders for so long. The Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs, has a relatively small component called the Military Personnel Exchange Program. MPEP manages 160 reciprocal exchange positions with 30 countries around the world. The program is part of the U.S. Air Force Global Partnership Strategy to build international relationships, partnership capacity, and interoperable capabilities. Efforts to promote mutual understanding and air force-to-air force ties are especially important in these times of shrinking budgets and reduced forces.

Generally, the exchange positions are for officers in the O-3 to O-5 range, but there are SNCO billets too. It's a great opportunity to experience life in a foreign country, but in a very different way compared to being stationed at a U.S. air base overseas, such as Yokota or Ramstein. Be warned that many of the exchange positions have a language requirement, but luckily I was able to survive in Australia with my American version of English. Driving on the opposite side of the road was the greatest threat.

Exchange personnel operate independently and are fully integrated into the host nation air force. In my case I worked in the Headquarters Air Command for the Royal Australian Air Force. The RAAF is actually the second oldest Air Force in the world and was established in 1921. HQAC is in charge operationally for the entire RAAF, and as log planners we worked with the operators to develop support plans for all operations and exercises.

I had administrative ties to the regional MPEP office in Hawaii, but day-to-day I worked directly for the RAAF chain of command. Initially it's a very steep learning curve trying to learn the doctrine, regulations and procedures of another nation's military, and not just the RAAF but the entire Australian Defence Force due to the number of joint activities; however, the struggle is definitely worth the effort. It is great to be able to compare and contrast the concepts and practices of not only the RAAF but also many other air forces to our own.

The RAAF is heavily engaged with international engagement activities across the Pacific region, with numerous bilateral and multilateral exercises that often times are independent of the U.S. I did a lot of international travel to various countries for planning conferences, yet another rewarding aspect of my exchange position. It was a unique experience to represent RAAF as the only USAF person at large international conferences, and I worked with personnel from many other nations including Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, and the United Kingdom. Interestingly enough, Scott is home to my old exchange positions counterpart. For decades the USAF has provided a major to HQAC while the Australian's provide a squadron leader to the 618th Air and Space Operations Center. In fact there are other exchange personnel based at Scott. I recently had the pleasure of meeting some of our fellow international Airmen while celebrating Australia Day, commemorating when the British First Fleet of 11 ships arrived on Jan. 26. 1788, with Andy Machin right here in Belleville. If you ever have the opportunity to participate in a MPEP, I would highly recommend it. It's a privilege and an honor working alongside our international brethren. Being an Airman is a wonderful thing, and the opportunity to work directly with the RAAF in Australia made it even better.