AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Being a “player” this week at Aviano doesn’t involve any trips to singles bars.

Instead, that designation means acting as if you’re at war. Most of the base’s active-duty population is participating in a NATO tactical evaluation that started Tuesday. An Air South team of 100 inspectors from 11 countries is evaluating how the base responds to simulated attacks.

It’s the first time that such a NATO review has taken place on base.

“I think it should be a tough week,” said Lt. Col. Willie Brandt, chief of wing inspection for the 31st Fighter Wing. “But it’ll be a fun week. A lot of inspections you dread. But we’ve been looking forward to this one.”

And preparing for it for months. And months.

“We’re not going to not do well,” Brandt said. “I don’t even consider that option.”

The inspection team includes members of NATO allies as well as some U.S. personnel. Some are attached to Air South, the NATO component that’s headquartered in Naples and commanded by U.S. Lt. Gen. Glen W. Moorhead. When not wearing his NATO hat, Moorhead commands the 16th Air Force, based in Aviano.

Brandt said Aviano had been trying to arrange for such a review for several years. But real-world missions and contingencies have pushed it back. That could have been the case this time as well, because hundreds of Aviano airmen are currently deployed to southwest Asia — including members of the 555th Fighter Squadron and the 603rd Air Control Squadron. But the decision was made to carry on.

That means the 510th Fighter Squadron will be extra busy, flying out in dozens of sorties daily to deal with perceived threats. It is not the only unit under evaluation, though. There will likely be plenty for those on the ground to worry about.

Brandt says inspectors are looking at three broad areas: force protection, logistics and operations. The evaluation runs around the clock through Thursday. After that, the team will take two days to present its findings.

A few F-15Es from RAF Lakenheath in England have flown south to play roles as opposition forces or allied support. Lakenheath, as well as Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, are set to undergo similar evaluations this summer.

Brandt says the wing feels that not only the evaluation findings, but also the process itself are important. Getting different perspectives from personnel from other countries is as valuable as demonstrating how Americans operate, he said.

“We have not only a responsibility to the American side, but we have a NATO role as well,” he said. “And we take that challenge very seriously.”

So seriously that “Play Areas” are restricted to official business only, according to signs posted around the base. Those areas are all located on or near the flight line, though, so most places where people live, shop or go to school shouldn’t be affected.

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now