Minister Ollongren welcomes F-16-pilots in Volkel

“It went very well - smoothly.” These were the words of one of the two F-16 pilots who returned yesterday evening from a deployment over Eastern Europe after being received by Minister Kajsa Ollongren, Lieutenant General Dennis Luyt, Commander of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, and others.

The pilot was fairly relaxed as he stepped out of his fighter aircraft after an intensive day of patrolling NATO airspace: “We’re on our guard, but of course this is what we were trained to do. We’re well prepared for this task.”

Ollongren saw both aircraft land in the dark at the air base after performing air policing duties over Poland. While the air force delegation updated Ollongren on the current deployment in the new area, the fighter aircraft was towed into the shelter at the air base.

“It’s impressive to see; to see with your own eyes how the Royal Netherlands Air Force is making an important contribution to our security and how the Netherlands is showing solidarity with our eastern allies,” the minister said on day two of the new mission. Two F-35s operating from Leeuwarden had already deployed to the eastern part of NATO airspace in the morning.   

Important task

As is the case regarding other NATO allies, Dutch crews are assigned time blocks for the patrols, which continue 24/7. The minister stressed that this was for good reason. “Our defence organisation has an important task now that Russia has attacked Ukraine.”

She described the current situation as being extremely serious. “It is important for us as the Netherlands to show that we are ready to play our part as a member of NATO and that we are prepared to protect the Netherlands and defend NATO territory with our armed forces. And that’s what these guys did,” she added in reference to the pilots.

Colonel Marcel van Egmond, Commander of Volkel Air Base, was also present when both aircraft returned. He likewise called the mission special. “We’ve done air policing before, but not on this scale and with a continuous presence along the eastern border of the NATO alliance.”

According to Van Egmond, everyone at the air base is eager to contribute to the new mission. “Morale is high. The deployment is considered to be an important contribution for which everyone is keen to make additional efforts.” This is partly because of the proximity of the conflict. “Things are going wrong in our own back yard.”