WASHINGTON: For the first time, 12 nations have come together, independently of NATO, to fly in support of their national requirements under the provisions of the Strategic Airlift Capability program, a U.S. military officer in Papa, Hungary, said yesterday.

“While we don’t take operational directions from [NATO], our nations are free to use their flying hours to support NATO missions,” Air Force Col. John D. Zazworsky Jr., commander of the Heavy Airlift Wing at Papa Air Base, Hungary, said during a “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable. The Heavy Airlift Wing is the multinational, operational-level unit of the SAC program.

The wing’s upcoming airlift operations will provide the countries involved with the ability to support humanitarian missions and combat operations, Zazworsky said. Ten of the nations involved NATO members, and two are part of the Partnership for Peace program, a stepping-stone toward NATO membership, he added.

“Due to the combination of countries,” he explained, “we are not directly aligned under NATO.”

While the United States contributed the wing’s first three C-17 Globemaster III transport jets as part of its investment in the program, the countries involved will acquire the others jointly this fall, the colonel said.

“Each nation gives and contributes in proportion to its share of flying hours,” he explained. “The money accumulated from the countries participating has produced these aircraft and the support that goes with them.”

The United States has the largest share of hours and the largest share of people. “Most leadership roles are shared by the four largest countries here: the U.S., Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands,” Zazworsky said.

At the request of the other nations, several U.S. members, including flight instructors and loadmasters, play key roles, he added.

“Since we already have experienced C-17 crew members, it was the quickest way to get experienced, battle-tested crews together and quickly bring in the non-C-17 nations and get their new crew members up to speed,” he said.

So far, Zazworsky said, the wing has flown two missions to the United States to acquire specialized heavy equipment and vehicles required for the missions ahead.

One of the primary requirements for participating nations is to support the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. “The large majority of our missions will be in support of troop and equipment rotation and resupply for ISAF in Afghanistan,” Zazworsky said.

Because of the significance of future missions, the colonel emphasized three priorities within the wing: team, mission and future.

“We worked real hard to knit the members together — and their families — to get a strong team,” he said. “Then, as we start to shift more and more to the mission piece, we’d have this foundation to stand on.

“I’ve got a very small wing on paper, but very big in impact I hope in the future,” he added.