This weekend, an article appeared in Belgian newspaper De Standaard about the incident with an F-16 fighter jet at Florennes Air Base. The commanders of the 2nd and 10th Tactical Wings of the Belgian Air Force found the title of the article completely misplaced. Together they wrote a letter that they sent to the newspaper. De Standaard decided, wrongly, not to publish the letter.
Aviation24.be considers that every opinion, especially from people who are very close to the incident, is worth publishing. We thus translated the letter into English: you can read it hereunder.
In the weekend edition of your newspaper, you mentioned the incident that occurred Thursday at Florennes Air Base. “Ongeloof op veel gezichten bij de Belgische Luchtmacht” (“Disbelief on many faces at the Belgian Air Force”): it was indeed disbelief and also on our faces when we heard about the incident. But the disbelief on our faces was just as great when we read the disrespectful title of the article: “Nieuwste Belgenmop, ken die van die ene F-16 die de andere opblies?” (“Do you know the last Belgian joke of one F-16 that blew up the other one?”).
Over the last ten years, the F-16s of our Air Force have almost always been used against extremist groups in air operations in Afghanistan, Libya and the Middle East. And it is still the case today; during this same period, our personnel and planes also participated in the security of NATO airspace over the Baltic States, in order to protect our borders and our people. On many occasions, our staff, who are behind the deployment of our F-16s, is congratulated by our partners for the way they do their job with modesty, but with the utmost professionalism. This is one of the reasons why our country can rightly see itself as a small but reliable partner in NATO, although our financial contribution is far below what is reasonable compared to what is expected from our allies.
Performing these successful missions requires ongoing training of our personnel, as well as constant maintenance and modification of the aircraft to keep them operational. It is an endeavour made up of successive human actions and people are, one day, fallible. The various investigations in progress must determine what combination of circumstances could lead to this significant incident. Appropriate measures will be taken both to prevent a subsequent incident and to punish a possible misconduct. But let’s not forget that ultimately these are people who are committed daily to your and to our safety, and who deserve our respect. Respect because during the last ten years, they have often been separated from their homes for months in order to carry out their mission in often difficult conditions: Regular target of mortar attacks during operations in Kandahar in Afghanistan, housed in tents or adapted containers in the desert, without any privacy and far from their families, in the exercise of their duties in extreme weather conditions ranging from minus 25 to over 50 degrees above the tarmac. All this with an incredible team spirit of “can do”.
Also in our own country where these people work every day to prepare aircraft for their national missions such as securing our airspace. To name just a few. They do not complain, and we agree that this is inherent in the military life they have chosen. All are highly motivated and give the best of themselves every day, in circumstances that are not always ideal in terms of infrastructure, available equipment or the number of colleagues. But they keep going, every day. You may not accept what they do and what they represent, but they deserve at least your respect. Like all the other soldiers who give their best every day: the personnel of the Army affected to the surveillance of the streets in our cities as well as to the accomplishment of delicate missions in Mali and Iraq, our doctors and our nurses who support our detachments around the world and our navy personnel who, for example, man the ships that remove the mines from European waters. They all deserve our respect and, therefore, we feel it is necessary to react to the misplaced title of your article. We are confident that most readers of your quality journal will be able to support us in this regard.
Didier Polomé, Commander of Florennes Air Base
Jeroen Poesen, Commander of Kleine-Brogel Air Base
Aviation24.be considers that De Standaard should have published this very worthy letter.