PRINCE SULTAN AIR BASE, KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA --
Maj. Scherders, Royal Netherlands Air Force weapons instructor pilot, has flown the F-16 Fighting Falcon for 12 years, a career in which he was heavily integrated with the U.S. Air Force. Currently, he’s a weapons instructor at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, training the next generation of USAF instructor pilots and flight leads through the Foreign Exchange Officer (FEO) program.
Scherders deployed to PSAB as an extension of his stateside role in helping the 77th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron hone their skills. Additionally, his presence allows the squadron to conduct the necessary training to certify instructor pilots and flight leads.
“The exchange program is an interesting one because the Dutch and U.S. relationship has been very strong since the end of the Second World War,” said Scherders. “In the last 25 to 30 years, there has been a bi-lateral exchange program where a U.S. weapons instructor goes to the Netherlands and supports the European Weapons School with all their experience from a U.S. perspective. Then, a Dutch weapons instructor goes to the United States to get a good understanding of the U.S. Air Force.”
While at PSAB, Scherders trained pilots working to become flight leads. Flight leads are experienced pilots that have completed all necessary upgrade training and are recommended for their upgrade by the squadron commander and director of operations.
“As soon as we finish pilot training, we are very skilled wingmen,” said Scherders. “As F-16 pilots, we normally fly with four F-16s. The flight lead is the person in that formation who has the responsibility for navigation and tactical decisions. They have their two wingmen and element lead to support them in their role.”
While flying training missions, Scherders takes the role of flying as a wingman to observe and grade how pilots training for a flight lead role execute their responsibilities.
“[Scherders] is treated just like any other pilot in the 378th,” said Lt. Col. Franks, 77th EFS director of operations. “Based on his skills and experience, he is vital to the training and readiness of the Gamblers and our ability to execute any mission thrown our way.”
While Scherders usually instructs pilots in a training environment, he explained that pilots training in a deployed environment adds challenges that could, in turn, make them more prepared flight leads.
“The pilots cope with non-standard environments every day,” said Scherders. It takes a lot of flexibility out of them and that is what we require in a flight lead. They have to show that flight leadership and the ability to cope with a constant changing environment. I think that’s just an added benefit to do upgrades here in relation to back home.”
Scherders has completed eight deployments in multiple areas of operation, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
“[Scherders] brings a unique perspective to the deployment,” said Franks. “He has a lot of time in the AOR on previous deployments with his country and has a fresh perspective on ways we can operate better.”
FEOs are part of a long standing relationship between USAF and RNLAF, who have worked side-by-side in conflicts such as Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
“I have worked with the last four Dutch FEOs and they are all superior performers from their country and continue to shine as they integrate and fly with the Gamblers,” said Franks.
Scherders explained, in addition to their training mission FEOs are resources that enable European and U.S. networks to come together to build the foundation for future leadership of both air forces to maintain a bi-lateral relationship that is strong and effective.
“We’ve always been a part of the coalition that is either U.S. lead or NATO lead,” Scherders said. “That makes it even more important for the exchange role that we are on a good basis with our two countries.”
Through the exchange program, USAF pilots instruct at the European Weapons School, which is attended by Norwegians, Portuguese, Danes, Belgians and Dutch pilots. In the program USAF pilots add their perspective to aid in increasing the weapons school’s relevance and reach.
“The exchange program is a key piece of our partnerships with our NATO allies,” said Franks. “Not only do we get to teach FEOs a lot of the things the USAF does well, but we also get a new set of ideas from them.”
With building partnerships being a key line of effort at PSAB, programs like FEO capitalize upon the wing’s commitment to ensuring U.S. forces continue to seize upon opportunities to build a ready Air Force.