A Hellenic Air Force (HAF) pilot has been named NATO’s Best Warrior for 2018. Captain Kosmas Xalaris was voted by his NATO colleagues as the best overall pilot in the Tactical Leadership Programme (TLP).

The competition happened between September 10 and October 4, during the 3rd Air Training Series for 2018. The Greek pilots participated in the competition with four Mirage 2000-5Mk2s. They were competing against French Dassault Rafales, Spanish EF2000 Eurofighters, Belgian F-16MLUs, Polish F-16Ms, and Italian Tornados and AMXs (a somewhat obsolete ground-attack aircraft). This has been the second year in a row where Greek pilots have won the prestigious award.

“The first stage that is needed is to really truly want it and the next stage, obviously, is to work as much as possible, to give up things, including personal time with the family and whatever that entails. We do not go with the goal of coming first, we go simply to be ourselves, to do what we do every day and the rest comes by itself,” said Captain Xalaris.

The exercise and competition took place at the Spanish Los Llanos Air Force Base. Previously, Greek pilots have had a bad history with that particular base. A few years ago, in 2015, a HAF F-16 Block 50 crashed almost immediately after taking off, killing its two crew members — and a further nine people, and seriously wounding 21. Additionally, two Mirage 2000D fighters and two Alpha Jet trainers of the French Air Force were destroyed. This year, however, was far better for the Greek contingent.

Having been called NATO’s Top Gun, the TLP brings together pilots from 10 NATO member countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States of America), plus partner forces, and tests their capabilities in a joint environment. Established in 1978, the TLP was first intended to train NATO pilots to work together against the Soviet threat. With over seven different Air Forces stationed in and operating from West Germany, the danger of blue-on-blue accidents was high.

“You have to really want it because the training, both at the academy and later on, is very demanding and grueling,” added the Greek pilot.

Among others, the TLP trains pilots and ground crews in planning and executing Composite Air Operations (COMAO), introduces NATO partners to how the alliance performs Tactical Air Operations. The participants, according to their specialty, are exposed to a variety of flying and academic courses.