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SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany — Pressed closely together in clashing patterns of camouflage, an international military audience watched as the U.S. airmen hustled to load training missiles on the F-16 fighter jet parked in the hangar.

Many in the group zoomed digital cameras in on the action, recording footage or images that they would share with their colleagues back in the likes of Kazakhstan, Serbia, Russia and South Korea.

“This is a big experience for me as a soldier,” beamed Col. Murat Dikkas, 50, a member of the Turkish Army, before the delegation moved on to the next briefing at the 480th Fighter Squadron.

The 67 visitors riding around Spangdahlem on Thursday in blue buses hailed from 34 countries and three international organizations. They toured base facilities and caught a glimpse of the 52nd Fighter Wing’s mission a day after a similar visit to U.S. Army Garrison Baumholder.

U.S. Air Forces in Europe and U.S. Army Europe extended the invitation to meet requirements of the Vienna Document, a political agreement aimed at enhancing confidence and security among dozens of nations in Europe and Asia, some of whom once were enemies.

Under the agreement, members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agree to inspections and data exchanges in order to increase transparency of their conventional forces, according to information from the Arms Control Association. The area covers all of Europe, Russia up to the Ural Mountains, and some nations in Central Asia. U.S. and Canadian forces within this region are also included.

Participating nations are supposed to invite delegates from the other countries to one of their combat air bases every five years.

“For the Army, it can be any military facility. For the Air Force, it’s just combat air bases,” said Taylor Kunkle, a treaty compliance officer for USAFE.

All 57 nations in the OSCE received an invitation, Kunkle said. Countries may send up to two delegates, either civilian or military personnel.

While at Spangdahlem, the delegates heard briefings from airmen and were able to ask questions afterwards. An unexploded ordnance disposal specialist wearing a bulky green bomb suit and operating a bomb-disposing robot answered questions about his craft from curious onlookers.

“Our goal in this visit has been to show them everything that we think shows how we do the mission and our interpretation of that is really our airmen, because they’re … the ones that make it happen,” said Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Sharpy, director of plans, programs and analyses for USAFE and U.S. Air Forces Africa.

Bases aren’t obligated to show any sensitive areas to the visitors nor divulge classified information. The delegates do get to sound off at the end of the tour on whether the host met the intent of the Vienna Document, Sharpy said.

Dikkas, the Turkish Army officer who was appointed a spokesman for the delegation, said Thursday the group so far was satisfied with its visit.

It’s helpful, he said, to see “the atmosphere” of a foreign military base and “see the capacity.”

“I’m taking photos and talking to my boss (upon returning) about these activities,” he said. “This is a very big base. I was impressed about the maintenance; I saw the discipline” of the airmen.

In two years, Turkey will host a similar visit in Ankara, Dikkas said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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