58th SOW, Belen celebrate training agreement

From left, MC-130J pilots Maj. Dennis Napier and Capt. Brett Agatep, and 58th Special Operations Wing Commander Col. Brenda Cartier listen as Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova welcomes them to the Belen Alexander Municipal Airport, where aircrews can train under a new joint-use agreement. Napier and Agatep are the first pilots to fly into the airport under the agreement. (Photo by Argen Duncan)

From left, MC-130J pilots Maj. Dennis Napier and Capt. Brett Agatep, and 58th Special Operations Wing Commander Col. Brenda Cartier listen as Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova welcomes them to the Belen Alexander Municipal Airport, where aircrews can train under a new joint-use agreement. Napier and Agatep are the first pilots to fly into the airport under the agreement. (Photo by Argen Duncan)

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

The special operations wings at Kirtland Air Force Base and City of Belen officials celebrated a partnership that enhances aircrew training with a fly-in Oct. 20.

After several years of work, the city and 58th Special Operations Wing recently signed an agreement allowing C-130 training on the crosswind runway at Belen Alexander Municipal Airport. The 150th Special Operations Wing works with the 58th on training.

Col. Brenda Cartier, 58th SOW commander; Col. Jim Dixon, 150th SOW vice commander; and 58th Command Chief Master Sgt. Robert Gibbons were among the Kirtland representatives who flew in an MC-130J Commando II to Belen, a little more than 30 miles south of Albuquerque. After taking off and landing several times while the assembled small group watched, the Airmen landed a final time and disembarked to talk with attendees before brief speeches.

“This airfield is going to be critical to our capabilities in our wing,” Cartier said.

To do high-end, high-risk missions, she said, Airmen have to train in conditions that mimic what they’ll see in such situations as combat search and rescue, special operations and humanitarian relief.

Although aircrews appreciate training at the Albuquerque International Sunport, Cartier continued, its runway is long and city lights don’t allow them to practice flying in blackout conditions. The Belen airport has a shorter, narrower runway, and is rural enough to be free from ambient lighting.

Before the agreement, she said, crews had to fly elsewhere to train in such conditions, spending hundreds of flight hours traveling.

“It’s a huge cost-savings for the taxpayer,” Cartier said of the agreement.

The American people can also know their sons and daughters are getting the best training, she said.

Cartier promised the 58th and 150th SOWs would be good stewards of the airport. The Air Force is providing annual payments for upkeep as well as equipment for the Belen Fire Department to use in case of a plane crash.

Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova said the city was proud to play a small part in aircrews’ training. He said work to improve the airport to this point took more than a decade.

“It took a lot of mayors, a lot of councilors, to make sure this project came to be,” Cordova continued.

He thanked the Airmen for coming and bringing the plane.

“We’re excited to see this happen,” Cordova said. “We look forward to the continued relationship, partnership.”