27 August 2008

Joint Task Force - East prepares for continual presence in Romania, Bulgaria

"We need and appreciate the efforts of NATO countries like Bulgaria that are committed to freedom and democracy. Bulgarian Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown great professionalism, dedication, and skill. Thanks to our Defense Cooperation Agreement, American Soldiers will train shoulder-to-shoulder with Bulgarian Soldiers on Bulgarian bases to improve our ability to fight common enemies while making our own two countries stronger friends and allies."

- U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria John R. Beyrle

The Russian army marched into South Ossetia, Georgia just as most of the 1000 U.S. troops participating in a joint training exercise called Immediate Response 2008 had left that country. The exercise involved soldiers from Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Black Sea, another group of about 1000 U.S. troops and civilians had arrived in late July to take part in a two-month exercise preparing for future, larger deployments to Romania and neighboring Bulgaria.

Aboard a C-130 en route to Bulgaria from Germany.

Some of you know my fellow SA Germany volunteer Jessica (seen, for example, in the top photo here). That's her husband Mike towards the back of this photo on the right. He's the only one awake and reading ;-)

Joint training exercises have been carried out in Romania and Bulgaria since the fall of the Soviet Union. But ten-year agreements signed in 2005 and 2006 allow for larger-scale deployments and a continual presence in both countries.

The agreements also permit the United States to refuel aircraft, preposition materiel, and launch military operations from the Bulgarian and Romanian installations.

JTF - East headquarters will be based in Romania and staffed by Soldiers from USAREUR headquarters and the 1st AD out of Germany, the Southern European Task Force out of Italy, as well as Navy Seabees, U.S. airmen and Romanian and Bulgarian troops.

There are about seven installations within the 2 countries available to the U.S. military, including the Babadag Training Area in Romania and Novo Selo Training Area in Bulgaria.

The range.

The current aid station and living quarters at the installation near Sliven, Bulgaria will likely be replaced with permanent structures after the current exercise.

When JTF-East reaches its fully operational level, brigades of 3000 - 4000 U.S. troops will begin rotating into the sites for six-month tours.

The current 2-month deployment involves the usual live-fire exercises with individual and crew-served weapons, situational training and other soldiering skills together with Romanian and Bulgarian counterparts.

It also involves medical training, in which Jessica's husband Mike is participating.

CPT Mike McDonald, an ER doctor at Landstuhl hospital, trains Bulgarian military health care professionals with the help of an interpreter.

Base alignments in Germany have resulted in closures of a couple of Army clinics. Some of the medical equipment and supplies no longer needed because of those closures has been sent to the Bulgarians, for which they're very grateful.

Later, training on medevac procedures.

In the future, troops from multiple nations could train jointly here, as during the recent Immediate Response exercise in Georgia. Or, U.S. troops stationed here could rotate to Georgia and the Ukraine for shorter training missions there.

Sources: S&S, JTF - East. Courtesy photos.

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