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US military has strong presence at Bahrain air show

SAKHIR AIRBASE, Bahrain — A variety of U.S. military aircraft were on display at the three-day Bahrain International Airshow, in the latest gesture of U.S. commitment to the region.

For Bahrainis, as well as visitors from nearby nations, it was a rare firsthand look at the military hardware that Washington has deployed in the area.

Attractions included the C-130J Hercules, the F-18E/F Hornet, and the MV-22 Osprey.

Crewmembers for each aircraft were on hand to answer questions.

“It’s kind of nice to show off the aircraft to the host nation,” Lt. Cmdr. Scott Tompkins, an MH-53E helicopter pilot based in Bahrain, said Thursday, the opening day of the show.

Marine Capt. Eileen Donovan, the aircraft commander for the MV-22 Osprey on display, concurred. “The air show has been wonderful, it’s a great opportunity to showcase our capabilities to our foreign partners here in the region.”

Musallam Al Musallam, a local resident, recalled how “cool” it was when he visited the U.S. Navy base on a school trip in 1994. At the air show, he spent time touring some of the military aircraft and talking to servicemembers. “It was fun,” he said.

U.S. military officials said all the aircraft at the air show are either based or deployed in this theater — a point that carries a deeper significance.

Last month, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel addressed a security conference in Bahrain and emphasized that the U.S. military remains committed to the Middle East despite the United States’ long-term strategy shift focused on the Pacific Rim.

U.S. military officials depicted participation at the air show as an example of U.S. commitment to regional security.

“It shows we’re willing and able partners in the region, and that our partnerships mean something,” said Rear Adm. James Loeblein, deputy commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. “We operate about 25 exercises with the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) nations every year, and this is an integral part of what we do.”

The U.S. has more than 35,000 military personnel in and around the Gulf, according to officials.

The Bahrain air show, at the Sakhir air base south of the capital Manama through Saturday, also features a number of European and Russian military and civilian aircraft as well as various display teams.

simoes.hendrick@stripes.com
Twitter: @hendricksimoes

 

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