LIELVARDE AIR BASE, Latvia --
Two A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots with the 442nd Fighter Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., landed at Lielvarde Air Base in Latvia, marking the first time U.S. fighter aircraft landed in this Eastern European country.
In the past, C-130 Hercules have landed there, and F-16 Falcons have done touch and goes, but this was the first fighter landing.
"It is an honor and a privilege to be the first ever fighter pilot to land here and be standing on the deck of this airfield," said Maj. Rick Mitchell, 303rd Fighter Squadron A-10 pilot, and first to land. "There are many qualified pilots to complete this mission and me and Capt. Sven Loeffler were the lucky ones chosen. It is awesome to be a part of this history."
The flight was part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, an exercise designed to strengthen relations and partnerships with European allies. The U.S. is committed to ongoing reassurance, security and safety efforts to NATO partners in Eastern Europe.
Lielvarde Air Base is four miles north of the town with the same name. It was built in 1969 for an attack aircraft regiment and transferred from Russia to Latvia in 1994 and now form the core of operations for the Latvian Air Force.
"The main reason for this landing today is to show the buildup of this base," said Lt. Col. Tim Brock, Bilateral Affairs Officer for the U.S. Embassy in Riga, Latvia. "We are furthering the NATO capability if this base is ever needed as a Forward Operating Base in the future. Now that fighters are able to land here, Latvians will be able to learn the safety of the aircraft, how to refuel, and handle emergencies should any arise while the aircraft is parked on the flight line."
"This has been a great experience for us," said Lt. Col. Juris Plavins, the acting commander of the Latvian Air Force and chief of Lielvarde Air Field. "It is great training and the troops can now put to practice what they have been learning on paper."
The U.S. will work side by side with European allies and partners training to meet future challenges.
Plavins said it was such a great day to be standing with the U.S. partners of the Latvian Air Force on the airfield as history was happening before his eyes.