Wednesday, 18 April 2012 20:00

Thracian Star 2012 - Bulgaria

Written by Senior Airman Katherine Windish
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U.S. and Bulgarian Airmen launched Thracian Star 2012, a joint training exercise focused on building partnerships and increasing interoperability, during a ceremony here April 18.

Brig. Gen. Tsanko Stoykov, the Bulgarian base commander, welcomed the 31st Fighter Wing Airmen from Aviano Air Base, Italy, emphasizing the significance of the month-long exercise and wished them well during their deployment.

"Bilateral training is important for us at Graf Ignatievo because it gives us a chance to implement new tactics and procedures and increase our combat capabilities," said Stoykov. "It also gives us a chance to improve our interoperability with our NATO allies and partners."

Colonel David Walker, 31st Operations Group and Thracian Star 2012 detachment commander echoed his sentiments as he took the opportunity to thank the Bulgarians for allowing the men and women from the 31st FW the opportunity to train at their installation and acknowledged their long-standing partnership between the two nations.

"Your airfield, your facilities, and your airspace are fantastic for the joint bilateral training we plan to execute and I know it will make us both stronger air forces," said Walker.

While this is not the first time the Bulgarian air force has hosted American forces at Graf Ignatievo, Thracian Star 2012 boasts the largest contingent of Airmen to date they've hosted. In all, the 31st FW brought more than two dozen F-16 Fighting Falcons and more than 500 Airmen--about twice the amount than any other U.S. Air Forces in Europe wing thus far.

"It is my personal opinion that this is not only the biggest deployment but also the best organized and executed deployment in the history of our bilateral training," said Stoykov. Walker agreed, stating, "We very rarely send two of our fighter squadrons to the same location so in both scope of training and size this is historic for us.

"This is yet another opportunity for us to strengthen our relationship with the Bulgarians," said Walker. "The bilateral training we are conducting greatly benefits both nations and significantly improves the interoperability of both our air forces."

During the exercise, American forces will work closely with their Bulgarian counterparts, increasing interoperability between pilots, maintainers, joint terminal air controllers, firefighters and security forces Airmen.

"I hope we will not only learn more about our capabilities and improve our interoperability," Walker said when addressing the Bulgarians, "I also hope that by the end of this exercise you will consider us not only your allies but your friends."

Brig. Gen. Rumen Radev, Bulgarian air force deputy commander, agreed, stating that this is a perfect opportunity for Bulgarians and Americans to learn from one another.

"The F-16s from Aviano have written remarkable pages in our aviation history," Radev said. "In 2005, you were the first ones to open the door for realistic fighter training in the Bulgarian air force... During Viper Javelin 2005, we needed to prove that we could just fly together safely, [and], thanks to your support in Rodopi Javelin 2007 and other deployments, we proved that we can fly complex missions and do it in a fully compatible and safe manner. In this deployment, we will prove there is no limit to success when two nations share common values, stand firmly shoulder-by-shoulder and fly wing-by-wing."

It's been eight years since Bulgaria became a NATO member. Former President George W. Bush, accompanied by former NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, congratulated the prime ministers of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, during a White House ceremony held March 29, 2004. Since the joining the NATO alliance in 2004, Bulgaria and the United States continue to build upon their partnership.

In addition to joint training, the American and Bulgarian forces will team-up for a couple community service projects where they plan to renovate local parks and post-operation rooms at a local hospital during their off-duty time.

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