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Spanish Helicopter Unit, SPAHEL

By Capt. Luis Barber
First published in
SFOR Informer #100, November 8, 2000

Ploce, Croatia - Since 1997, from the arrival of the first detachment, 11 Spanish helicopter units have served in SFOR. Now, it is the turn for SPAHEL XII.
This detachment is comprised of 25 people; helicopter pilots, mechanics and crewmen of the helicopters and support personnel on the ground.
As part of the Light Army Aviation Battalion (BATALAT) in Ploce, they provide two helicopters. According to Capt. Jose Luis Gonzalez Valdivielso, the operations officer, the current model HU-1H would be replaced for the new HU-21 "Cougar" very soon.
The chief of the Spanish detachment is Maj. Jose Francisco Mares Solaz, a helicopter pilot. He serves in one of the six helicopter battalions in Spain. He is based in the Canary Islands like most of the people in this detachment. The rest of them belong to the other units of the Spanish Light Army Aviation, "Fuerzas Aeromóviles del Ejército de Tierra" (FAMET).
According to Mares, "Flying together with helicopters of other countries means gaining a great experience because you must know different procedures and materials. Sometimes, French, German, Italian and Spanish helicopters take part in missions all together."
They carry out missions to support MND Southeast, basically tactical and logistic transport and medical evacuations. Also they are ready to protect SFOR and, if required, International Organisations and civilian population. Their tasks include day and night training, which means they are ready to act at any time and in all conditions.
In their relations on ground, "We use the French language, but English language to fly. Language is not an inconvenience to maintain excellent relationship in BATALAT," explained Mares.
Lt. Juan Carlos Ruiz Gonzalez is a helicopter pilot in Ploce.
"The thing I really like is the flight. Landscapes are very beautiful in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Flight is quite interesting and demanding due to the difficult mountains and weather in this area," said Ruiz.
One of the three mechanics of the helicopters, Sgt. Jaime Muelas Delgado, thinks their work is important and continuous, sometimes during day and night, because "helicopters require constant maintenance to be ready to fly anytime."
But a unit like this also needs a lot of people working on the ground supporting the air operations. That is the case for Pvt. Juan Luis Delgado Vargas who works supporting the refuelling operations on ground by means of fire-prevention unit.
"It is essential the refuelling is carried out in the most secure way to avoid any accident," he explained.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: Spain