OGDEN — The aircraft sustainment squadrons at Hill Air Force Base recently hosted the fourth annual F-16/Proven Aircraft Worldwide Review conference, which welcomed more than 720 government and military delegates from 36 different counties, at the Ogden Eccles Conference Center. Overall, there were 1,093 attendees at the weeklong event.
The Worldwide Review conference has been hosted by Hill AFB for the past 24 years in different formats and was designed to provide international members of the Technical Coordination Group — a program of international Air Force experts who maintain military aircraft, engines, armament and other systems and have purchased other complex systems which need continuous modifications and upgrades — an opportunity to present their agenda items and to attend briefings which relate to maintaining and supporting their aircraft and weapons systems. Contractors are also present to view and discuss the latest offerings from more than 133 aerospace industrycompanies present.
"We had 180 vendor booths this year," said Ross Reeder, the Ogden Eccles Conference Center director of sales and marketing. "The contractors who present briefings at the conference will also have a booth where they will provide equipment or services to these organizations. It is a big plus for them to be seen here."
"When we first began hosting the Worldwide Review conferences, we would get about 80 vendor booths and 500 people in attendance," said Victor Olson, Technical Coordination Group chief of F-16 Program Division C with the 508th Aircraft Sustainment Group. Mitchell Schutz, TCG chief of the Proven Aircraft Division with the 505th Aircraft Sustainment Squadron, says the conference previously used a two-week format — one week strictly for discussing the F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft platforms and the next week the Proven Aircraft platforms. For the past four years, the platforms have been combined into a one-week conference.
"Now, every year we increase in contractor participation, so booths have increased and participation has increased by other countries. For us, we continue to increase our family of F-16 participants as more countries acquire the F-16 aircraft," Olson said.
While separate briefings were still held for the F-16 customers and the Proven Aircraft customers, which encompasses F-5, F-4, T-37, T-38 and A-37 airframes, some briefings accommodated both aircraft groups. "We provided technical discussions to inform our customers how to upgrade and support their airplanes, and we tell them about the latest technology available to their aircraft," Olson said.
Schutz attributes word-of-mouth as another reason attendance has increased over the past few years. "The attendees will return to their countries and tell them what went on here and the information they received, and that grows their interest."
Olson reported that feedback from this year's attendees "was nothing but kudos."
Marty Smith, the conference center's general manager, echoes those results by feedback he received throughout the week. "I'd be in an elevator with some of the attendees and without fail, every single person has said this is the greatest conference they attend."
Reeder notes the annual conference brings in more than $1 million for the local community each year and says it is the largest event the Ogden Eccles Conference Center hosts. "We coordinate with local hotels to accommodate lodging, and we work with the Ogden Convention and Visitors Bureau to provide hospitality and activities for our visitors."
Schutz and Olson emphasize that the conference is not all work and no play. Each year the conference hosts different themes carried into the social events. "This year our largest social event had a 1930's Chicago-era zoot suit theme complete with the old cars," Olson said. "Our goal is also to give them something to remember."
Olson said that he visits 14 countries every year, and on each military delegate's desk is a picture of that delegate enjoying an American-themed experience. The TCG planning committee meets every month throughout the year to ensure the foreign visitors bring back experiences from Utah that they can display proudly on their desks.
But not all the fun and networking can be shared with the Hill AFB community. It is a closed, secure event to protect the foreign delegates in attendance.
"It is restrictive, unfortunately for Hill Air Force Base, which has thousands of people who would love to participate in this event," Olson said. "However, we do open up an afternoon during the week for Hill Air Force Base support personnel to come out and meet with the people who help support them also. Our vendors, in turn, love to network with them. Our customers from different countries may only see us once a year, so this is a great opportunity for the countries, the vendors and the U.S. government to get together and go through their programs and identify support issues."
The TCG committee also extended a special invitation to a key Hill AFB delegate. Maj. Gen. Andrew Busch, Ogden Air Logistics Center commander, gave the opening speech at the conference and helped boost camaraderie among the attendees.
"We have great support by our senior leadership," Olson said. "That is a big thing for our military customers, to see a two-star general walking through the booths and interacting with people. Military-to-military interaction is very important, as well."
The TCG committee is already meeting to plan next year's conference.