We Are Texoma: German Air Force celebrates 50 years at Sheppard

We Are Texoma: German Air Force celebrates 50 years at Sheppard

WICHITA FALLS, TX (KAUZ) - The German Air Force detachment is celebrating half a century of partnership with Sheppard Air Force Base. Fifty years of building relationships and solidifying the bond between the U.S. and Germany.

The German Air Force started sending their students to Sheppard Air Force Base in the 1960's. They were the first international training pilots to come to Sheppard. German Deputy Senior National Representative Lieutenant Colonel Torsten Zurek says Germany uses the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program exclusively to train its fighter pilots for the German Air Force. Lt. Col. Zurek graduated ENJJEPT in 1994 and came back in 2009 be a T6 instructor.

"The German Air Force started sending their students to SAFB in 1966. The program changed in 1981 with the creation of ENJJEPT. We've been sending fighter pilot students here exclusive since 1966."

He says a lot of European Air Forces are trained exclusively at Sheppard which he says is important because they learn to work together with the U.S. Air Force.

"ENNJPT is unique in its nature because it's the only multi-national driven and executed program in the whole wide world. It is the biggest program. We train together. 13 different countries come here. Currently there are 11 and we work together as one. It's a challenging and beneficial program."

Colonel Bernhard Hay says ENJJPT has leadership personnel out of all 13 participating nations.

"The key element is basically a shared program where all the partners not only provide students but also instructor pilots and leadership personnel. So two of our squadrons at the moment are lead by international officers. This is rotating model where countries provide their best leaders for this program to lead their prospective squadrons in this program."

Col. Hay Was trained at SAFB in 1986 when ENJJPT was very young and was an instructor pilot in the 1990's. He assumed command of the German 80th Operations Group in July.

"I have 6 squadrons under my command which basically are the four flying squadrons. Two on the T6 - two on the T38 trainer."

ENJJPT is internationally manned and governed by a Steering Committee made up of voting members of all 13 participating nations. The program has graduated a little over 7000 students since it started.

"This program uses 60 thousand flying hours per year. That equates to 55 thousand sorties. That is more than some of the European Air Forces fly per year."

He says the assimilating into the community has been easier because the people in Wichita Falls have been so inclusive. As for a language barrier - he says the English language is a major part of German education. He says they are extremely grateful for the support of the Wichita Falls Junior League who has been the German sponsor for the program since it started. He says they help in many ways and have events for them like Thanksgiving dinner and a Spring picnic to help them integrate into the community and the American way of life.

An international fighter pilot training program whose benefits are clear. Lt. Col Zurek says he hopes the program will long continue.

"We share everything here. We share people, costs, responsibilities and experience. By doing that the program produces a type of pilot that is universally employed everywhere. If we lost that we would lose a big part of integration, we would lose a big part of inter-operability."

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