American airmen last month hosted their Ukrainian counterparts in Germany for a three-week course in enlisted leadership, base defense and combat medicine, one of the latest efforts to bolster the small nation’s prowess against Russian forces.
The U.S.-run Inter-European Air Force Academy, near Ramstein Air Base in western Germany, bills itself as the institution of choice for “first-class military education and training … for Europe and Africa.”
This is the first time the school has designed training only for Ukrainians, the U.S. Air Force said in a release Monday. Forty-nine noncommissioned officers from Ukraine’s air force and national guard took part, joined by Kostiantyn Stanislavchuk, its air force’s top enlisted leader.
“In critical moments, a service member acts based on their training … allowing us to control the situation,” Stanislavchuk said in Monday’s release.
Master Sgt. Craig Crabtree, the course’s American director, said students were tested on their leadership, followership, problem-solving and team-building. Those lessons were facilitated with the help of interpreters like Senior Airman Viktoria Senkiv, a Ukrainian-born U.S. Air Force Reservist with the 910th Security Forces Squadron at Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Ohio.
“The Ukrainian NCO students exceeded every expectation,” Crabtree said.
Ukrainian and American troops have worked together for years through initiatives like the National Guard’s state partnership program, which pairs foreign militaries with Army and Air Guard units for periodic training visits.
Since Russia invaded in February 2022, the United States has offered more than $35 billion in direct and indirect aid to the eastern European nation and has continued teaching Ukrainian troops to use weapons systems in the U.S., Germany and Poland.
At the war’s one-year mark, Western officials estimated that around 200,000 Russian troops and 100,000 Ukrainian troops, plus more than 21,000 civilians, had been wounded or killed in the conflict so far. The United Nations human rights office is still verifying thousands of reported casualties in Russian-occupied territory.
Around 18 million people need humanitarian aid, according to the U.N. It estimates that 8.1 million refugees have fled Ukraine so far, plus over 5 million more who left their homes but remained in the country.
Military experts often credit Ukraine’s noncommissioned officer corps — the mid-level enlisted troops who manage field units and serve as a conduit between senior leadership and rank-and-file members — as one reason why a much smaller military has been able to hold Russia’s invasion at bay for over a year.
“The NCOs are not just there to follow orders, but they are there to make decisions and think outside the box,” Stanislavchuk said at an August 2022 gathering of international enlisted leaders in Arlington, Virginia, according to Air and Space Forces Magazine. “On the Ukrainian side, we’re seeing more and more — especially with our junior NCOs and junior commanders — they are working together, and they’re able to become more leaders and make those decisions.”
He said Russian forces, which focus more heavily on their officer corps, have tried and failed to adopt the same approach amid battlefield losses.
“Whenever we destroy their [higher-ranking] officers and lieutenants, we’re seeing they’ve actually tried to lean on their NCOs more and more,” he said. “But the NCOs are not prepared to make those decisions. They will not take that risk.”
Stanislavchuk visited other parts of the American air enterprise in Germany as well, holding an all-call with troops and observing an F-16 engine test facility at Spangdahlem Air Base.
Ukraine has pleaded for Western nations to supply their military with fighter jets like the F-16 Fighting Falcon, which the U.S. has so far declined.
NBC News reported March 4 that a military base in Tucson — likely with the Arizona Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing, which flies F-16s — had begun working with Ukrainian pilots to help the U.S. determine how long it might take to teach them to fly advanced Western aircraft.
“‘The program is about assessing their abilities as pilots so we can better advise them on how to use capabilities they have and we have given them,’” a Biden administration official told NBC.
Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), the Washington Post, and others.