They say history has a way of repeating itself, and for the Smith and Radke families, that is certainly the truth.
In 1984, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Lee Smith, a navigator with the 907th Airlift Group, and German Air Force Capt. Erhard-Ingo Radke, the Chief of the Airtraffic Control Tower and Approach Radar at Fliegerhorst Air Force Base, began a friendship that would stand the test of time.
Smith and Radke met while Smith was deployed to NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen and the two hit it off immediately. Even after Smith left Germany, the two kept in touch with frequent phone calls, letters, and even regular visits throughout the years.
What they didn’t know was that 35 years later, at the same ranks as they were when they first met, their sons would also meet and become fast friends.
“A couple years ago a buddy of mine who had been deployed to Geilenkirchen came into the squadron and told me there was someone over here who knew my dad,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Troy Smith, an Ohio Air National Guard pilot at the 121st Air Refueling Wing. “Once I got here, it didn’t take long to figure out who he was. We connected within an hour of me landing.”
Lt. Col. Troy Smith met up with German Air Force Capt. Wolf-Soren Radke, and they bonded instantly.
The relationship between these two families mirrors the strong relationship between the Air Force National Guard and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
“I think the Guard and NATO partnership is a great alliance. It’s kind of interesting how it’s been passed down generationally” said Wolf-Soren Radke. “I’m sure that you can see that through NATO, friendships are being created. If the next generation meets up again after us, that would be fantastic.”
Lt. Col. Troy Smith and Capt. Wolf-Soren Radke plan on keeping in touch and have talked about planning a trip together later this year. The two are excited to continue the friendship that their fathers began years ago.