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Exchange officer reflects on Air Guard experience

Staff Sgt. Bryon Best, left, an F-16 crew chief assigned to the 162nd Fighter Wing in Tucson, goes over maintenance issues with Chilean Air Force exchange officer 1st Lt. Cristobal Desmaras. The lieutenant spent two years with the Arizona Air Guard unit to learn F-16 maintenance practices. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Gabe Johnson)

Staff Sgt. Bryon Best, left, an F-16 crew chief assigned to the 162nd Fighter Wing in Tucson, goes over maintenance issues with Chilean Air Force exchange officer 1st Lt. Cristobal Desmaras. The lieutenant spent two years with the Arizona Air Guard unit to learn F-16 maintenance practices. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Gabe Johnson)

First Lt. Cristobal Desmaras, left, a Chilean Air Force exchange officer, monitors maintenance operations on the 162nd Fighter Wing flightline from the wing’s maintenance operations center with Senior Master Sgt. Bill Peterson. The lieutenant spent two years with the Arizona Air Guard unit to learn F-16 maintenance practices. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Gabe Johnson)

First Lt. Cristobal Desmaras, left, a Chilean Air Force exchange officer, monitors maintenance operations on the 162nd Fighter Wing flightline from the wing’s maintenance operations center with Senior Master Sgt. Bill Peterson. The lieutenant spent two years with the Arizona Air Guard unit to learn F-16 maintenance practices. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Gabe Johnson)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The Pentagon's effort to develop partner nation air forces is sometimes accomplished one exchange officer at a time, and the Air National Guard is lending one of its best assets to the exchange program - experience.

At the Arizona Air National Guard's 162nd Fighter Wing here, Chilean Air Force exchange officer 1st Lt. Cristobal Desmaras wraps up a two-year assignment in F-16 maintenance as part of the 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Personnel Exchange Program.

He served as a maintenance officer, or 'engineer,' in his nation's air force since 2001 and worked on numerous aircraft in the Chilean inventory ranging from the Mirage M-50 fighter-bomber to the Bell 412 helicopter. When Chile added the F-16C/D block 50 as part of the Peace Puma program in 2006, Desmaras was selected to learn how the United States maintains the multi-role fighter.

"The F-16 is our 'first-line' fighter and the future of our air force, so the exchange officer program is of great value to us," he said. "I've been given an opportunity to learn from great people while making my own contributions to the 162nd mission."

The 162nd, a designated international F-16 training wing, is a primary training destination for many foreign fighter pilots. In recent years, the wing has trained pilots from Chile, Greece, Italy, Singapore, Norway and Poland to name a few.

However, Desmaras wasn't sent here for the international flavor of the mission, but rather for the time-tested know-how of Guardsmen assigned to the wing.

"I was sent to the Guard because maintainers here average 18 years of experience on the F-16," said Desmaras. "This wing has developed many programs over 24 years of flying several versions of the jet, and I will bring back to Chile many of the lessons I've learned here."

He's also bringing back a Guard perspective.

"I was truly impressed with the Guard," said Desmaras. "Since people work here for many years they develop close working relationships which help in the long run to accomplish the mission. I've seen that they work very hard, they're focused on their jobs and they're responsible for their actions."

During his exchange, he rotated through several distinct maintenance roles, spending up to six months in each. In all, he was exposed to quality assurance, maintenance operations, phase docks and back shops. He also served as officer in charge of the 152nd Aircraft Maintenance Flight, responsible for 24 jets and a compliment of crew chiefs, weapons troops and avionics technicians.

Desmaras' supervisor, Lt. Col. Mike Knutson, noticed early on that he was taking full advantage of his time as an exchange officer.

"While here, Cristobal also was attending Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in his off duty time studying toward a master's degree," said Knutson. "Through his research there he provided valuable recommendations for the reduction of pilot reported discrepancies for radar systems on the F-16 aircraft."

He was selected as the 162nd Maintenance Group's Outstanding Officer of the Quarter in January of 2008 not only for his intellectual contributions, but also his willingness to take up tools and fix airplanes.

In Chile, maintenance officers work shoulder-to-shoulder with enlisted maintainers. They administer engine runs, they fly on functional check flights and they troubleshoot, says Desmaras who applied a hands-on approach to maintenance issues at the 162nd.

"He's a very knowledgeable officer, and very easy to work with. He even taught me a few things that I forgot," said Senior Master Sgt. Doug Stidvent, phase element supervisor. "He's a great representative for his country and for international relations."

Upon his return to Santiago in April, Desmaras will be assigned to his air force's materiel command where he is expected to implement improvements to F-16 maintenance practices across the Chilean Air Force.

"I'll miss golf, my soccer league and all the outdoor sports here in Tucson. But most of all, I'm going to miss the people at the base, their experience and the resources. I've worked with so many supportive people here. It will be very easy to stay in touch."

"Lieutenant Desmaras is truly and outstanding officer," said Knutson. "It has been an honor working with him."