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Exchange program strengthens bonds between NATO allies

Capt. David Martinez Guillen, a Spanish Air Force pilot attached to the 16th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, poses in front of a C-17 Globemaster III Jan. 25, 2018, at Joint Base Charleston, S.C.

Capt. David Martinez Guillen, a Spanish Air Force pilot attached to the 16th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., poses in front of a C-17 Globemaster III Jan. 25, 2018. U.S. Air Force active duty officers have the opportunity to work alongside international air forces through the Military Personnel Exchange Program. MPEP is a special duty assignment intended to build, sustain and expand international relationships. Martinez Guillen is the first Spanish pilot to take part in the MPEP. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Allison Payne)

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C.(AFNS) -- Air Force active duty officers have the opportunity to work alongside officers from international air forces through the Military Personnel Exchange Program, a special duty assignment intended to build, sustain and expand international relationships. Capt. David Martinez Guillen, a Spanish air force pilot arrived at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, in October 2014 to begin his assignment with the 16th Airlift Squadron.

“Since the day my wife and I arrived to Charleston we’ve received nothing short of warm welcomes and endless hospitality from everyone,” said Martinez Guillen. “I’ve noticed the ‘southern lifestyle’ is very close-knit, similar to Spain, which helped us feel at home. Maj. Christopher Perry, our sponsor here, has taken care of us every step of the way. He’s been an amazing support to us not only on the professional side, but on the personal side as well, which my family has been really thankful for. He’s pretty much been like a ‘big brother’ to me during my time here.”

Martinez Guillen is the first Spanish pilot to take part in the MPEP. He is also the first exchange officer assigned to the 16th AS.

“I can’t sum up my favorite things about this program into one thought because every single aspect of this program is great,” said Martinez Guillen. “The MPEP does a great job at pushing forward through differences between our countries to bring the air forces together. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to be integrated into a different air force, and coming to the United States has been an amazing experience for me and my family. In fact, my wife and I came here just the two of us, but we will be leaving with four; my two-year-old son, as well as our baby on the way.”

Tour lengths typically last two years plus travel and training time. The program operates with a one-for-one exchange of personnel in which foreign exchange personnel fill existing U.S. Air Force job positions.

“My experience with Martinez Guillen and the program has been nothing but positive,” said Maj. Chris Perry, liaison officer to Joint Special Operations Command attached to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. “This program is a great way for NATO allies to engage in cross-cultural communication and continues building and establishing bonds between different countries governments and militaries.”

The nations participating in MPEP include Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, Canada, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Australia, Bangladesh, India, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Thailand.

“The fellowship I’ve seen every day between the people here is amazing,” said Martinez Guillen. “I love the wingman concept and how the military here creates family-like bonds between squadron members. Our symbol at the 16th AS is a lion and since the day I arrived, my squadron has welcomed me into their ‘lion pride’ and today I’m happy to say I’m proud to be a lion.”

Martinez Guillen said he and his family will be returning to Spain July 2018.

“It is an honor to host and work with Martinez Guillen in the 16th AS,” said Perry. “It takes a very motivated person to move to the other side of the world to learn how to fly a different type of plane using a completely different language. He’s extremely professional as an officer, aviator, father and a husband and it’s been a pleasure having him in our squadron.”