COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. — Capt. Toai Dang, of the Vietnam Air Defense-Air Force, became the first Vietnamese student to graduate from the Aviation Leadership Program (ALP) on May 31 at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.
ALP is a U.S. Air Force-funded program, providing students of partner and developing countries with undergraduate pilot training scholarships.
During the graduation ceremony, which also recognized students from Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 19-10/16, Brig. Gen. Edward Vaughan, Special Assistant to the Director of Training and Readiness and Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at the Pentagon, was the guest speaker and talked about the significance of Dang’s participation and completion of ALP.
“I want you to fly, I want you to fight and I want you to win,” Vaughn said. “It is a great honor and privilege to be able to speak to you and welcome you among us now as one of our partners.”
In addition, Lt. Gen. Steve Kwast, commander of Air Education and Training Command, commented on Dang’s graduation marking a significant step forward for the two countries’ air forces.
“Vietnam’s participation in the Aviation Leadership Program is a tremendous milestone for the U.S. Air Force and Vietnam Air Defense-Air Force collaborative relationship,” Kwast said. “This type of training and cooperation enables Vietnam’s air force to increase its abilities in air and maritime operations. This partnership helps ensure peace and stability in the region and in the world.”
“It’s a good chance for me to come here (and) study something new,” Dang said about the opportunity.
Dang’s involvement in the program also helps strengthen the security ties between the U.S. and Vietnam and exemplifies the commitment of the two countries to deepen their defense relationship and bilateral cooperation, an objective of the 2011 Memorandum of Understanding on Advancing Bilateral Defense Cooperation and the 2015 Joint Vision Statement on Defense Relations. Dang’s participation in ALP demonstrates the commitment between the U.S. and Vietnam toward reaching mutual goals in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Capt. Dang’s graduation from ALP and the skills and knowledge he’s gained through the training represents our continued cooperation with partner countries and our strong support for the region,” Brig. Gen. Michael Winkler, Pacific Air Forces Strategy, Plans, and Programs director, said. “We look forward to greater military-to-military cooperation that continues to allow the U.S. and Vietnam to more effectively work together to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.”
Dang said he is looking forward to returning to Vietnam to help his fellow pilots with lessons learned after 12 months in training at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Upon his return, Dang will go on to fly the CASA 295, a twin turboprop tactical airlifter.
Before arriving at their pilot training base, ALP students attend the Defense Language Institute English Language Center (DLIELC) at Joint-Base San Antonio Lackland, Texas, for special purpose English training. Dang started at DLIELC in 2016. Once he graduated from DLIELC, Dang then arrived at Columbus AFB and started ALP in May 2018. He has since flown the T-6 Texan II for more than 167 hours. Unlike Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training, where students will go on to fly the T-1A Jayhawk or T-38 Talon following their time in the T-6, ALP students put in more hours in the T-6 and receive their wings once they complete the course.
Maj. Dave Cote, 41st Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot, and Capt. Christy Martin, from the 14th Student Squadron, are both international military student officers and they provide administrative support to the 55 international student officers from 23 nations while they are in pilot training at Columbus AFB.
“ALP is heavily geared toward flying and ground training,” Cote said, “but another major aspect of the ALP is to promote cultural and informational exchanges to develop mutual cooperation and understanding between the U.S. Air Force and participating nations’ air forces.
Cote said he feels ALP is essential to “building partner capacity.”
“Building partnerships and relationships takes years, if not decades,” Cote said. “The relationships our U.S. and international student pilots build now will no doubt remain long after their days at Columbus.”
Cote said 20 years from now, student pilots and graduates from Columbus AFB will be colonels and generals in their respective air forces, and these relationships could play a major role down the road.
“The connections and relationships created today in the flight rooms and rigors of pilot training will hopefully remain throughout careers,” Cote said.