JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. —
Twenty-two cadets from the Latin American Cadet Initiative visited the 1st Helicopter Squadron during a tour here, Oct. 18.
The initiative, an Office of the Secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs program that started in 2006, invites the top two air force academy students from partnering Latin American countries to the U.S. for a month-long tour. The tour aims to build relationships and help cadets better understand the U.S. military.
“They see our Airmen, our maintainers, our flight crews, and can relate to them, but they take those observations home and incorporate them into lessons learned in their Air Force,” said Lt. Col. Donald Landgrebe, SAF/IA country director. “We hope that this experience is not only life changing for these cadets, but provides a network for them and for us to facilitate change and partnership.”
The LACI program started as a week-long visit to Washington D.C. and a stop at the U.S. Air Force Academy to provide Latin American and U.S. AFA cadets a chance to meet and build relationships. The schedule varies each year, but has grown to include stops at the U.S. Military Academy, New York City, Naval Academy, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and several other military bases.
Since 2010, the tour has come to JBA to give the cadets a chance to see the UH-1N Iroquois “Huey” helicopter, which many of their countries fly today.
Coming here also allowed them to talk about joint operations between the Air Force and Navy as well as the total force concept with the National Guard, Reserve and active duty on base.
1st Helicopter Squadron Commander, Lt. Col Jennifer Whetstone, noted that the opportunity to work with young military cadets also gives the Air Force a chance to create a long-lasting impact.
“If we can make those connections at an early age and start to develop these relations with young cadets, they are going to remember the time they spent here and look back fondly on their time with the U.S. Air Force,” she explained.
The cadets got a full tour of the squadron and were able to interact with active duty throughout the day. The visitors seemed a little reserved at first, but began to open up as the day went on, Whetstone added.
“You [could] see a little bit of a [language] barrier at first, but as people got comfortable putting themselves out there you could see friendships and connections being formed,” she said.
At the end of the tour, the cadets got to fly around D.C. in a “Huey,” an experience that many of them were looking forward too.
“My dream is to be a pilot and flying is [everything] for me in this moment,” said Colombian Air Force Cadet Cristhian Ramirez. “This is an excellent program. [It] is great for the people in Central and South America because it creates an opportunity to build relationships for the future of all air forces.”
Cadets from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru participated in this year’s initiative.
The next stop on the tour is the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado for the academy’s international week.