Columbus AFB is an international crossroads
By Col. Eric Theisen, 14th Operations Group Commander
/ Published January 12, 2007
COLUMBUS AFB, Miss. --
When one thinks of Columbus AFB, one would not think of it as an international hotspot. However, Columbus AFB is training international students right now, with around 32 students from 17 countries represented from around the world. The International Student pilots at Columbus are their countries' finest and train alongside our American students. They will become the military leaders for their country in the years to come.
The international program consists of three distinct parts. The first part mirrors the Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training program the U. S. students go through. Our International SUPT partners are Italy, Japan, Singapore, Nigeria, and Portugal. We currently have Japanese and Italian students here. These students go through SUPT with their U. S. counterparts and stay at Columbus for 52 weeks.
The second part is the Aviation Leadership Program. This 10-month program takes International students through two phases in the T-37 "Tweet" and prepares the students to be pilots in their follow-on aircraft back in their home country. Currently, Columbus has students from Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Chad, Columbia, Guatemala, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Mali, Pakistan, Peru, and Tunisia. Classes start and end every three weeks, so we have many other countries that attend training here at Columbus as well.
The last part is the Polish Pilot Training program. The Polish pilots come here to fly in the T-38C "Talon" to prepare them to fly the F-16 "Fighting Falcon" back in Poland. This is a five month program that consists of academics, simulators, and aircraft flights.
Another part of the International Student Program at Columbus is our host Japanese officer who is responsible for all of the Japanese students across USAF SUPT bases. He is Seiji "Kite" Yoshida, a Major in the Japanese Air Force. His duties include monitoring the performance of all the Japanese students, ensuring their follow-on training is scheduled, and takes care of their general well-being while they are in the United States.
Columbus has other International Officers who are actually Instructor Pilots that fly with American and International Students. We have officers from Peru, India, and Venezuela as part of our Instructor Pilot staff at Columbus.
To make the students feel at home, Columbus has an International Student Sponsor Program. This is designed to expose International Students and their spouses, if they are accompanied, to American cultures and values through the relationships of the community. The Sponsor Coordinator is Sharon Garriga, a schoolteacher at Heritage Academy. She matches students who desire a sponsor with people willing to take a genuine interest in them and allow them to become part of their lives while they are here for training. To sponsor a pilot, all one has to do is to call them once in a while, take them out to eat or to a movie, or invite them into your home for a cook-out or a home cooked meal. Involving the students in everyday activities like football games or family activities gives these students some insight into American morals and values. The ultimate goal of the International Student Sponsor Program is to cultivate goodwill between the United States and our Allied countries. Sponsoring an International Student provides an opportunity learn about another country and culture while teaching them about American culture.
Pulling all of this together is the International Military Student Office. Major Scott McCartt is at the helm of the IMSO office and has the responsibility to make sure our international students are getting the help and training they need to successfully complete this rigorous program. The office takes care of the student from beginning to end, meeting the student as they get off the plane at the airport to seeing them off when they complete the program. The IMSO office works with outside agencies such as the Air Force SAT, Secretary of the Air Force and Air Education and Training Command International Affairs offices, foreign embassies, and local Columbus agencies to take care of all International Student matters.
We are very happy to have this international presence here at Columbus AFB. All of our students, both U. S. and our Allied friends benefit from this arrangement; training together to establish those relationships that are critical to making the world a safer place. If you would like further information on the International Student Program, the IMSO office number is 434-3284. If you are interested in sponsoring an international student pilot, please contact Mrs. Garriga at (662) 356-6455 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.