120th Airlift Wing airmen support multinational exercise in Brazil

Senior Master Sgt. Wayne Bonderenko was among the 28 members of the Montana Air National Guard who participated in the largest international military operation ever held in the Amazon jungle of northern Brazil.

Some have indicated that the AMAZONLOG exercise was a sign of closer U.S.-Brazil defense tie.

The exercise was held at Tabatinga and the airmen of the 120th Airlift Wing were based at Manaus, providing aerial transport with one of the unit’s C-130s.

Bonderenko was the unit’s noncommissioned officer in charge on the weeklong mission that focused on how the region would respond to a natural disaster or other large-scale humanitarian crisis.

The 120th was the only Air Force unit that participated in the exercise and Bonderenko said they flew daily from Nov. 6-12 hauling people and cargo.

He said it was like flying over broccoli since the trees grow to the same height, disguising the topography below and since it’s summer in the southern hemisphere, he said it was very hot and humid.

But, there were some similarities to Great Falls, with the Amazon River and others merging at Manaus.

“It looks like the Missouri and Sun River, just bigger,” he said.

Since the requirements for loading cargo and passengers are the same whether the mission be humanitarian or combat operations, Bonderenko said the exercise provided good training for the 120th airmen. Each day, the configurations of cargo and passengers were different, giving the airmen real world training, he said.

According to the U.S. Embassy in Brazil, the logistics exercise was led by the Brazilian Army Logistics Command and included the U.S. and Brazil, as well as Peru, Chile, Colombia and Japan. During the exercise, an International Logistics Base composed of Integrated Multinational Logistics Units was built in the hostile and challenging Amazon Rainforest.  ULMIs will be trained to give support to civilians and military personnel deployed in remote regions, as typically occurs in peace operations and humanitarian assistance, according to the embassy.

U.S. Southern Command observed the exercise and there were about 19 Army observers in addition to the 120th airmen.

The Colombian and Peruvian armies provided personnel with various skills to include: medical, logistics, and aviation backgrounds, who were used as planners within the exercise and as responders to provide assistance to scenario-based “displaced personnel.”

According to the U.S. Embassy in Brazil, the tri-border region with Colombia and Peru faces unique challenges in conducting humanitarian assistance such as disaster relief efforts and the exercise was designed to “build partner nation capacity for civil and combined military response to major disasters, interoperability between the militaries of the participating nations, and to improve and strengthen regional civil-military collaboration.”

The airmen of the 120th returned on Nov. 13 and the group included 15 maintainers, five aerial port airmen and eight air crew, Bonderenko said.

Most them had deployed previously, but it was the first international trip for Bonderenko with the C-130s. It was one of the first times for U.S. airmen to work with the Brazilian military.

The Brazilian military built a tent city at Tabatinga for the exercise, Bonderenko said, but the 120th airmen stayed in a hotel in Manaus.

Since the Brazilians speak Portuguese, a Brazilian military officer was assigned to the 120th to translate and coordinate details, but the international flying language is English, Bonderenko said.

The exercise was an opportunity, Bonderenko said, “to show our capabilities and that we are willing to help people in need all around the world.”