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Ohio Air Guard welcomes Serbian Air Force leaders 
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Brig. General Mirko Vranic of the Serbian Air Force looks at the cockpit of an F-16 Fighting Faclon at the 180th Fighter Wing, Ohio Air National Guard on Jan. 26. Four members of the Serbian Armed Forces General Staff participated in a familiarization visit at the 180th Fighter Wing as part of the Ohio National Guard State Partnership Program. The primary purpose of the visit was to help them understand how their U.S. Fighter Wing counterparts operate. Ohio began its partnership with the Republic of Serbia in 2006. (Photo by Capt. Gary Bentley, Ohio National Guard)
By Capt. Gary R. Bentley, Ohio National Guard 

TOLEDO, Ohio -- One of the coldest Januarys in recent history did not dampen the spirits of four Serbian Air Force members, and an interpreter, who recently spent a week with the 180th Fighter Wing.

The guests were Brig. Gen. Mirko Vranic, 204th Air Force Base commander, Col. Dejan Joksimovic, 98th AFB commander, Senior Master Sgt. Miodrag Markovcevic, chief of weapons supply for 98th AFB, Master Sgt. Sasa Sailovic, a weapons specialist for 98th AFB, and interpreter Natasa Mrdak. The visit was a National Guard State Partnership Program exchange.

The State Partnership Program exchange was established in 1993 in response to countries in the former Soviet Bloc transitioning their governments from communism to democracies, according to Capt. Matthew Zelnik, State Partnership Program director.

"The program's goals reflect an evolving international affairs mission for the National Guard using the unique civil-military nature of the Guard to interact with both active and reserve forces of foreign countries," Zelnik said.

Ohio began the partnership with the Republic of Serbia in 2006. Since then, there have been more than 50 exchanges of personnel and events. When the partnership began, events were conducted and the primary goal was to develop an understanding of what each partner could contribute.

"We have begun a phase this year to conduct more unit-level events that support the exchange of information between two professional military organizations," Zelnik said.

The Serbian guests arrived Jan. 25 at Detroit Metro Airport, and were the guests of the 180th Fighter Wing through Jan. 30, when they departed for the trip home. While at the 180th, the group received briefings from each functional area of the wing. They also interacted with members of the operations group, maintenance group, and mission support group.

The overall purpose of their visit was to allow them to observe and develop an understanding of how their counterparts in the Ohio National Guard lead their units. In addition, the group wanted time to interact and meet with their counterparts to understand the overall mission of the 180th Fighter Wing.

The goal for Col. Mark Bartman, 180th FW commander, was that the wing's Serbian guests be provided with a free flow of information in order to assist them with their goal of re-shaping the Serbian Air Force. At a brief meeting on the last day of their visit, Vranic said he was very pleased with the openness and willingness of 180th members in sharing information during the trip.

On Tuesday night of their visit, an official dinner was held at Mancy's Restaurant in Toledo. Mr. Arthur "Jibby" Jibilian of Fremont was at the dinner with his family. Jibby was honored Dec. 7 at the 180th in a ceremony recognizing his actions during Operation Halyard in World War II that is featured in the book, "The Forgotten 500." Jibby said he appreciated the chance to meet with the Serbs and to thank them for Serbia's efforts in helping rescue downed U.S. Airmen who were shot down by the Germans.

Their visit included a day trip to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, to tour the National Museum of the Air Force. The group said they appreciated the opportunity to visit the world's largest and oldest military aviation museum. It took the cooperation of many different 180th members to help make the visit a success, and many people can take pride in knowing that they contributed greatly to the ongoing success of the State Partnership Program with Serbia.