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OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — The U.S. and South Korean air forces can learn a great deal from each other.

They both fly the F-16, a deft attack jet. They also have to maintain the planes, a highly skilled job that keeps them prepared for war.

Earlier this month under the “buddy wing” program, 10 airmen from Osan went to South Korea’s premier Seosan Air Base to learn how South Korean aircraft maintainers and pilots work. They brought along two U.S. F-16 fighters for three sorties with the South Korean F-16s.

“One of our main objectives was to share the differences in maintenance — to share ideas,” said Master Sgt. Gregory Kimoto, a production superintendent for the 36th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, which services the 51st Fighter Wing.

The Osan personnel had expertise in avionics, aircraft maintenance, weapons and security forces.

Over three days, the airmen slept in the base barracks, ate South Korean food and observed differences in how maintainers operate, Kimoto said.

“Their flying operation is one of the smoothest ones I have ever seen,” said Kimoto, who has been in the Air Force for 21 years. “There is no confusion. There is no extra effort.”

South Korean maintainers are trained for very specific tasks, whereas U.S. airman are trained over a wider range of skills, Kimoto said.

Staff Sgt. Larry Bredwell, with the 36th AMU, said he noticed striking differences in how maintainers work and how the South Korean rank system is structured. “It was an eye-opener,” Bredwell said.

Bredwell thought the U.S. Air Force may be well ahead of its South Korean counterparts, but he learned they are much closer in practice. South Korean airmen are very efficient, he said, and the chance to observe them was valuable.

Capt. Steven Harrold flew two sorties with South Korean F-16s, working on a surface attack mission at the Pilsung range southeast of Osan.

The two U.S. F-16s and South Korea F-16s also paired off into teams to practice airborne-combat maneuvers.

“I was surprised at their experience level,” Harrold said. “I really didn’t think they flew as many times a month as they do.”

The South Korean pilots were curious to talk with Capt. Sheryl Ott, the first female F-16 pilot they had ever seen, Harrold said.

Despite having less defense money than the United States, the South Korean air force uses its resources well, Kimoto said.

“The Koreans do a lot more with a lot less,” Kimoto said.

“Doing a lot more with a lot less is basically due to their professionalism and their organization. The final product they achieve is just as good as ours.”


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