VOLKEL AIR BASE, the Netherlands (AFNS) — For the past two years, Maj. Dan McGuire, an F-16 pilot, and his wife, Jen, called the Netherlands home.
McGuire participated in the Air Force Personnel Exchange Program and served as an exchange pilot with the Royal Netherlands air force. He was assigned to the 312th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Volkel Air Base.
Prior to moving overseas, the couple attended an intense, six-month Dutch language course offered by the Defense Language Institute in Alexandria, Va.
“The course was fantastic and really prepared us for our assignment,” McGuire said. “When we arrived in the Netherlands, we were fluent enough to negotiate our housing lease, set up our utilities, and blend into our new community.”
Professionally, the language training enabled McGuire to perform day-to-day squadron operations entirely in Dutch. Although his colleagues were fluent in English, which is the official language of both NATO and the aviation community, McGuire preferred to engage with them in Dutch to practice his language skills. As a result, his command of the language was proficient enough to receive mission and flight briefings in Dutch, as well as manage squadron operations.
“During my assignment, I went from understanding an average of maybe 65 to 75 percent of what was said on a daily basis, to understanding 85 to 95 percent,” he said.
“Exposure is the key. Your ear learns to listen for the right things, as you become more accustomed to the pace and rhythm of the language. And speaking-wise, I am much more comfortable. My vocabulary has improved somewhat, but it’s the ‘common speak’ that has really come along. Knowing the lexicon, the catch phrases, and the semantics goes a long way toward getting your point across.”
McGuire’s fluency also gave his Dutch supervisors confidence in his ability to coordinate with higher echelons. This afforded him a unique opportunity last summer. Between June and September 2011, McGuire deployed to the Combined Air and Space Operations Center (CAOC) in Poggio Renatico, Italy, in support of Operation Unified Protector. He served as the Dutch liaison officer and senior national representative, coordinating, planning, and liaising between the Dutch Fighter Command in Holland, the Dutch F-16 expeditionary detachment in Decimomannu (Sardinia), and the planners at the CAOC.
“I worked daily with the CAOC director and deputy combined forces air component commander, and was a part of multiple innovative operations that improved the efficiency of combat operations there,” McGuire said. “The hours were sometimes grueling, since as a one-man-show I had to be present for the daily planning and coordination meetings. On weeks that we flew nights, I also had to be available on the (operations) floor during our eight-hour fly-window. Overall, I learned a tremendous amount about air operations first hand. There’s no substitute for real world experience!”
McGuire developed his air operations knowledge base a few years ago through a planning course at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and most recently through joint planning courses offered in his Master’s in Military Operational Art and Science degree through Air University’s Air Command and Staff College.
The assignment provided McGuire with numerous opportunities to engage with other NATO countries, fostering mutual understanding of each other’s cultures and air forces.
“Cultural differences are often underestimated. Knowing how deep they run can pay huge dividends when connecting with foreign-service members,” he said. “Coalition operations are the future. I’m glad that I’ve been able to build the professional relationships and gain the understanding that will further our ability to facilitate those operations in the future.”