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GRAF IGNATIEVO AIR BASE, BULGARIA
Story by Airman 1st Class Ericka Woolever
31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
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Airmen and U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing, Aviano Air Base, Italy, and Airmen assigned to the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing, 86th Airlift Wing, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, participated in Thracian Viper 20, a multilateral training exercise with the Bulgarian air force at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, Sept. 21 to 25, 2020.
During the exercise, U.S. and Bulgarian air forces conducted air-to-air training with Bulgarian MiG-29s and air-to-surface training with Bulgarian Air Defense assets to enhance their ability to rapidly deploy to remote locations and take command and control of the region.
“Thracian Viper is the Bulgarian flag-level exercise, where we integrated with our NATO partners, to include Romanian and Greek air forces,” said U.S. Air Force Captain Alexander Lodge, 555th Fighter Squadron pilot.
Participation in multinational exercises enhances the U.S. Air Force’s professional relationships, and improves overall coordination with allies and partner militaries during times of crisis.
“The exercise is important because it gives us the opportunity to strengthen our relationship with Bulgaria and NATO,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Brian G. Lewis, 555th FS director of operations. “We are able to share our knowledge and understand the complexities with working with another nation. Additionally, we are learning how to take a limited amount of people to an unfamiliar location and conduct flying operations.”
Exercises such as Thracian Viper 20 provide both U.S. Airmen and Bulgarian forces an opportunity to extend joint warfighting capability through operational and tactical training. Successful partnering activities like this result in progressive relationships and lead to tangible, mutual benefits during peacetime, contingencies and crisis, through actions such as regional security, access and coalition operations.
This exercise required all levels of a squadron to deploy small teams of Airmen and aircraft for a short amount of time to hone their skills and deliver lethal airpower more effectively and efficiently anywhere in the world.
“This is awesome for Airmen because it gives them the opportunity to practice what they have been training for and work with other units across the base,” said U.S. Air Force Captain Terrence Ashton, 555th FS intelligence analyst.
Thracian Viper 20 provided an opportunity for the 555th FS to build interoperability, share tactics and test the squadron’s ability to rapidly forward deploy, sustain operations, and work in coordination with our partners and allies. The exercise also offered a chance for the 31st FW Airmen to train and sharpen operational and tactical skills.
“Heritage, respect and precision are all words I have harped on over the years and it’s why I am always working to improve and set new standards for myself,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Travis Martinez, 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron dedicated crew chief. “Exercises like Thracian Viper give me the opportunity to show up ‘world famous’ but leave ‘highly respected’.”
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