Many people know about Luke Air Force Base’s foreign units the 425th Fighter Squadron, and the 21st FS, but there are other foreign officers here as part of an international exchange program.
The Military Personnel Exchange Program has given one pilot with the Belgian air force the opportunity to come here to learn, as well as help teach new B-course students.
Belgian Commandant Michael Artiges, 308th Fighter Squadron instructor pilot, was selected from five candidates for two exchange positions, one in Portugal and one in the U.S.
This is not his first time in the U.S. as a pilot. In 1996, Artiges spent nine months as a B-Course student in Tucson learning to fly with the Arizona National Guard.
“My experience in Tucson was to help the Belgian air force better understand how training in the U.S. was compared to ours,” he said. “There are more flying days and other differences we used to better our program. Unfortunately, after about five classes they canceled the program.”
This time is different for Artiges since he brought his family.
“It’s a challenge being back,” he said. “When you’re alone, it’s easy to fix the small things that come up, but now with the family here, it’s a different ballgame. It was challenging for my family at the beginning, but now that school is fixed and the children are in classes, my wife has been able to return to school to better her English.”
Living in the U.S. was a goal for Artiges and his wife, but the process to get here took him a few tries.
“This was not my first time applying to the program,” he said. “I tried before with no luck. My wife and I were hoping to get into the program, specifically the position in the U.S., and finally we got it.”
Now as part of the Emerald Knights he is going through familiarization training.
“I am almost done with my initial training,” he said. “The training is to familiarize me with the aircraft I will be flying here. After that, I will start my instructor pilot training and soon after begin training incoming pilots.”
Artiges is not alone as an exchange officer at Luke. In fact the base has positions for officers from a number of countries.
“Luke has 10 exchange officer authorizations: seven pilots, two maintenance officers and one logistics officer,” said Greg Daniels, 56th Fighter Wing foreign disclosure officer.
The program has been around since the early ‘90s and hosts pilots from countries including Chile, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Portugal and Turkey. It also has authorizations for maintenance officers from Thailand and Poland, and a logistics officer from Ecuador.
“MPEP promotes mutual understanding and trust, between the U.S. Air Force and international air forces,” Daniels said. “It also furthers the coalition warfighting capability of both air forces, strengthens air force-to-air force ties, and develops long-term personal and professional relationships.”
Depending on the position being filled, exchange officers do different things.
“Once qualified, pilots instruct and supervise upgrading pilots in F-16 flying operations,” Daniels said. “Maintenance officers through observation, research, and hands-on training will gain familiarity with repair shop and flightline maintenance management. Our logistics officer integrates the full spectrum of logistics processes within the operational and acquisition environments.”
The training for an exchange officer at Luke can range anywhere from six to eight months Daniels said.
“This partnership helps both countries,” Artiges said. “The Belgian air force deploys to areas where the U.S. Air Force is, and we have to work together. Already having the experience of working with each other can make it less stressful for both countries.”
The MPEP also helps support the U.S. Air Force Global Partnership Strategy.
“MPEP is one of the most effective building partnership tools the U.S. Air Force employs,” Daniels said. “It facilitates long-lasting air force-to-air force relationships through personal connections between U.S. and partner-nation airmen. These relationships create long-term opportunities for increased cooperation and understanding, as many former exchange officers will advance to senior levels within their air forces.”
For the Artiges family, this is not just a chance to fly with the U.S. Air Force but a chance to explore a country they have wanted to visit for a long time.
“My family and I plan on taking advantage of the time we’re here,” he said. “We have a list of places to visit like Washington, D.C., and obviously Disneyland. We will make the most of our three years and hopefully expand our cultural experiences.”