Exchanging more than just a pilot

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Saphfire Cook
  • 355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Exchanges are made between commercial industries in different countries each and every day. Be it consumer goods, services or raw materials, trading is continuous and ever-growing. The U.S. Air Force has taken a page from the book of big business and entered into a pilot exchange program with France.

Major Scott Adams is the first combat search and rescue exchange pilot to be assigned to the French Air Force.

Major Adams joined the United States Air Force as an officer in 2000. It was during his second duty assignment at D-M that he was introduced to the exchange program.

"Everyone that was interested in the program took the Defense Language Aptitude Battery to make sure that they qualified, and then we waited for our command to make a decision," Major Adams said. "One day the commander came up to me after a flight and said 'Are you still interested in going to France?'"

Willing to go wherever the mission needed him, he accepted the position. He spent six months at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif. immersing himself in the French language. After completing the course, Major Adams packed up his life, his two kids and his wife, and in late 2008, reported for duty with the 0167th Pyrenees Squadron at Cazaux Air Base, France.

"I had felt confident after graduating from DLI," Major Adams said "But then I got to France and realized that I didn't speak enough French to communicate easily."

The first six months were the hardest, he said. He and his family knew no other Americans in the town of Cazaux, France where they lived. Though Major Adams had a grasp of the native language, he was far from fluent.

"I went to ground training at a French school with French technical manuals," Major Adams said. "That's a great way to learn a language; you will learn fast. Eventually my squadron managed to find me an English version of the manual. That helped immensely."

In every sense of the term Major Adams is a French pilot. He belongs to a French unit, has French patches on his flight suit and flies a French helicopter. He even deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 under French command.

As a member of the 0167th Pyrenees, Major Adams flies the EC-725 Caracal, a combat search and rescue helicopter that has been flown by the Pyrenees for about six years.

"The Caracal is very similar to the HH-60 Pave Hawk, which I flew in the United States Air Force," Major Adams said. "Some of the things I like about the Caracal is that it has a newer airframe and a greater cargo capacity. It also has autopilot which is an exciting advancement."

For the last year and a half, Major Adams has been working with co-pilot Capt. Maxime Damaret, 0167th Pyrenees chief of ground training and unit deployment manager. Captain Damaret has been in the French Air Force for seven years and says that Major Adams has helped his unit get back to basics.

"Combat search and rescue was originally taught to our unit by American pilots, but over time we deviated from the original methods we were taught," Captain Damaret said. "Scott has helped us get back to those procedures and merge them with our current strategies."

In addition to his duties as a pilot, Major Adams oversees weapons and tactics for the squadron and acts as its international exercise liaison.

His most recent liaison effort were for the 2012 Angel Thunder Personnel Recovery and Rescue exercise at D-M. Seven aircrew members from the French Air Force, including Major Adams, came out to observe the 66th Rescue Squadron from Nellis AFB, Nev., run CSAR missions in the HH-60 helicopter.

France originally planned to send two aircraft and 55 personnel to D-M and act as players during Angel Thunder. However, resources were needed elsewhere due to ongoing operations. The seven-man observation team was sent to familiarize themselves with the exercise in preparation for next year.

"The 66th RQS let us sit in on mission planning meetings and debriefs and allowed us to get a good feel of what Angel Thunder is about," Major Adams said.

The goal of the exchange pilot program is to allow countries to share knowledge and tactics.

"It allows you to have more tools in the tool box," Major Adams said. "You may be in a situation where you are unable to execute a tactic as you normally would, be it you don't have the resources, etc. Knowing different ways of doing things will provide you with more options."

Major Adams' exchange tour is scheduled to last two years after he completed his initial training. After his time is up he will rejoin the United States Air Force as an HH-60 helicopter pilot.

"Being with the French has taught me that there isn't only one way to do things," Major Adams said. "I've learned that you can be very effective with a small footprint. It's taught me to be flexible and I want to take these lessons to my next squadron."

Having a liaison officer from another country as part of the unit gives governments access to information they otherwise would not know.

"There's a French pilot who is stationed at Moody AFB, Ga., right now and he is learning from and contributing to their squadron," Major Adams said. "This exchange program is about so much more than one pilot getting to experience another country's tactics and training. It's about that pilot being able to take his knowledge home and share it with his unit. If I know your capabilities and vice-versa, coordination during missions will run so much easier."