A Saab JAS 39 fighter jet from the Hungarian Air Force lands on Chièvres Air Base, Belgium during the Chièvres Air Fest June 24, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Bryan Gatchell, USAG Benelux Public Affairs)

Good cheer soars during 2022 Chièvres Air Fest

By Bryan Gatchell, USAG Benelux Public Affairs

CHIEVRES AIR BASE, Belgium – U.S. Army Garrison Benelux hosted the 2022 Chièvres Air Fest June 24 and 25 at Chièvres Air Base, Belgium, in celebration of the decades of partnership between the U.S. Army and its host nation community.

The event, held in and around hangars 1 and 2 of the airfield, drew more than 18,000 attendees, who met the crews of static aircrafts, interacted with reenactors in period uniforms, met with U.S. Army Soldiers, and gazed upward as aircraft maneuvered beneath a low cloud ceiling.

This year, the event took place over two days with U.S. military and NATO ID cardholders coming to the June 24 event and the general public coming to the June 25 event.

A crowd gathers to watch an Agusta A109 helicopter from the Belgian air component land at Chièvres Air Base, Belgium during the Chièvres Air Fest June 25, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Libby Weiler, USAG Benelux Public Affairs)

Col. James Yastrzemsky, the commander of the garrison, opened the event both days.

“The Chièvres Air Fest is an opportunity to celebrate and honor the decades-long history shared between the U.S. military, the Belgian armed forces, our great NATO alliance, and our wonderful host nation communities across the entire Benelux and right here in our back yard at Chièvres Air Base, in the city of aviators,” he said during the opening ceremony June 25. “Today, in these uncertain times across Europe, our steadfast partnerships are even more important than ever. I cannot think of a better place to gather than here on the airfield of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. What a symbol of our strength, and what a symbol of our unity!”

Yastrzemsky paused the opening ceremony to direct the crowd’s attention skyward as Belgian paracommandoes parachuted onto the airfield.

A father and son watch two JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets roar away from each other over Chièvres Air Base, Belgium during the Chièvres Air Fest June 25, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Libby Weiler, USAG Benelux Public Affairs)

Also as part of the opening ceremony, three Soldiers with the garrison took the oath of reenlistment, rededicating themselves to their career in the Army.

Several aircraft flew above the airfield during the air fest, including an Agusta A109 helicopter from the Belgian air component; the Belgian Airbus A400M, from which the paracommandoes had parachuted; and two Hungarian Saab JAS 39, which pealed overhead in a rainy sky, wowing the attendees with its capabilities in close flight, flight passes and more.

“It is a big pleasure for us to be here,” said Capt. Mate Majerik, JAS 39 pilot with the Hungarian Air Force. “We find that people are very kind to us, and we enjoy talking to them.”

A child sits in the cockpit of a Belgian SF-260 Marchetti, a light aircraft, during the Chièvres Air Fest June 25, 2022, at Chièvres Air Base, Belgium. (U.S. Army photo by Libby Weiler, USAG Benelux Public Affairs)

Although weather conditions prevented them from flying both days of the air fest, the Belgian Red Devils, an aerobatic demonstration team comprised of four SF-260 Marchettis, a light aircraft, flew several formations above the crowd June 24.

On the ground, attendees queued to get a glimpse inside a Belgian Airbus A400M, a turboprop military transport vehicle. They also met the pilots and crew of the Polish air forces’ F-16 fighter jet, and many other aircraft. Community members sat within a glider. They saw many other aircraft and met their crews, including those of C-21, a turbofan-engine aircraft; an SF-260 Marchetti; and a CASA C-212, a medium cargo turboprop jet.

Outside Hangar 2, reenactors dressed in period costume and brought WWII-era and other historical military equipment. They talked with community members and showed them around their vehicles. Inside Hangar 1, attendees took photographs with an M3 Stuart light tank, behind which hung an American flag several meters wide and tall.

A distinguished visitor reception took place in Hangar 1 as well, with the command team honoring 97-year-old Arlette Hautmont Phillips of Binche, Belgium, who married Isaac Curtis Phillips, a World War II veteran. Isaac Curtis Phillips landed at Utah Beach and fought through France and Belgium to the Hürtgen Forest. He was gravely wounded at the Siegfried Lin in September 1944. While convalescing in Binche, Isaac met Arlette.

During the reception, Arlette received the Garrison Medal, as the citation reads, "In appreciation for providing outstanding support to your husband, fellow veterans, Soldiers and civilians and Families for over 77 years." Arlette has long served as a volunteer in the Benelux community.

Also during the reception, the commander inducted Olivier Hartiel, the mayor of Chièvres (the city of aviators), into the the Order of St. Michael as an honorary knight for his support to the aviation community.

In Hangar 1 were the International Museum of Chièvres Air Base, the Belgian Air Component, the Chièvres Cultural Center and the Mons Memorial Museum, who helped share the history of Chièvres Air Base. The garrison Equal Opportunity office also had a display on Army heritage and diversity.

Two Saab JAS 39 fighter jets from the Hungarian Air Force perform maneuvers above Chièvres Air Base, Belgium as part of the Chièvres Air Fest June 24, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Bryan Gatchell, USAG Benelux Public Affairs)

The garrison began hosting the Chièvres Air Fest in 2021, the first large-scale community event of its kind since 1996. Harold Demarbaix, a community member who lives in nearby Lessines, attended the air fest this year and remembered visiting the air base back then.

“I came before 1995, and it was amazing,” he said. “It’s still amazing today. I love coming here because I feel like I’m on vacation in the United States. I like to ask questions. They (American people) share their culture with us. It’s very pleasant.”

More in line with the festive atmosphere, there were several games and events for several ages: bumper cars, a prize stand, inflatable bounce houses, and an axe-throwing contest. Souvenir and food and drink booths were available to patrons. Food vendors brought fish and chips, Mexican food, Greek food, ice cream, southern cuisine and much more. Inside Hangar 2, attendees could try their skill on a mechanical bull.

In addition to helping open the event, members of the SHAPE International Band played popular songs of the past several decades. Other local live acts took the stage June 25, culminating with two sets by BJ Scott, singer and Belgian-American celebrity. Scott, who is also one of the coaches on The Voice Belgique and hosts a French-language radio show on Classic 21, performed several rock and blues songs.

After the late summer darkness settled in, attendees finished the night by watching a barrage of fireworks.