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VMFT-401 pilots school Royal Moroccan Air Force

By Lance Cpl. M. Daniel Sanchez | | September 27, 2007


Two pilots from Marine Fighter Training Squadron 401, the station’s only 4th Marine Aircraft Wing squadron, participated in Exercise African Lion Sept. 10-21 at Meknes Air Base, Morocco.

VMFT-401 F-5N Tiger II pilots, Maj. Kevin Reece and Lt. Col. Geoffrey Olander, strapped up and flew out with the Royal Moroccan Air Force.

The Adversary Marines participated in the annual joint-military exercise, to teach the foreign F-5 pilots about air-to-air refueling and make aerial refueling instructors to continue that training.

Reece, who is a native of Niagara Falls, N. Y., said they were teaching the Moroccans how to conduct aerial refueling because it is a capability the Royal Moroccan Air Force has not had for about 20 years.

The Moroccan military’s air refueling program never really got off the ground, explained Reece.

Reece, who had not trained with the Moroccan military in the past, said he wasn’t sure what to expect at first.

The skills and abilities of the pilots being trained is one of the major factors instructors think about, said Reece. However, the Moroccan’s had capable, hard-working pilots who were able to pick up the training quickly.

As a squadron, they had an incredible learning curve and did a good job of preparing each new class of pilots, said Reece.

The Moroccan airmen made sure everyone was already familiar with the operational terms and concepts before they participated in the training, which helped to move things along, said Reece.

Although Reece and Olander were the instructors, they still walked away with some new knowledge of their own.

Moroccan F-5s have upgraded avionics packs, which improve their tactical and inclement weather capabilities, said Reece.

The avionics pack consists of improved radar, navigation, heads-up display, and several other equipment improvements.

This is definitely the type of equipment that could help the Adversaries in their mission, said Reece. If countries around the world are using these, VMFT-401 should have them as well.

However, the trip was not all work. Reece and Olander also took in the scenery and the culture of Morocco.

After the morning flights, all the pilots would go out to eat together to get their minds off the job, said Reece.

“The food was really good,” said Reece, “I got to eat some Taine and Harira soup.”

Tagine is a North African dish that is slow cooked at low temperatures. It consists of various types of meat, vegetables and sauce and is made in a special cooking pot of the same name, according to www.cuisinenet.com.

Harira is a soup usually eaten during dinner in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to break the day’s fast.

Reece also said he and Olander, who is a native of Boston, were able to learn about Ramadan and a different side of the Muslim culture while in Morocco.

The vast majority of the people in Meknes are of the Muslim faith and were observing the

holy month, which meant they would not eat from sunrise to sunset for the duration of the month, said Reece.

The city sets off huge cannons to signal the end of the day’s fast and the first night was a little rough because the blasts came unexpectedly, said Reece, commenting on how the cannon blasts took him by surprise.

Reece said the people of Morocco were very friendly and did not mind if they ate during the day.

Even Moroccan pilots who were scheduled to fly were exempt from the fast for that day, said Reece.

Morocco was a great place to train and their culture was amazing, said Reece

Working with other countries just helps to further the cause of freedom and these types of international military exercises are critical for building a strong base of support around the world, said Reece.

“You can never have enough friends and this shows there are nations that see America as a force for good,” he said.

The fact is, in that part of the world there is a contest for freedom going on and someone has to win, said Reece.

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