La. Air Guard deploys to Bulgaria for NATO training exercise

Staff Sgt. Keenan Spicer, 159th Security Force Squadron, Louisiana National Guard, stands guard on the flight line at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, near Plovdiv, Bulgaria, April 22, 2015. Thracian Eagle 2015 will enhance interoperability with Bulgaria and maintain joint readiness with NATO Allies. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Toby M. Valadie, 159th Public Affairs Office/RELEASED)
Staff Sgt. Keenan Spicer, 159th Security Force Squadron, Louisiana National Guard, stands guard on the flight line at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, near Plovdiv, Bulgaria, April 22, 2015. Thracian Eagle 2015 will enhance interoperability with Bulgaria and maintain joint readiness with NATO Allies. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Toby M. Valadie, 159th Public Affairs Office/RELEASED)

By Master Sgt. Toby M. Valadie, 159th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office

PLOVDIV, Bulgaria – The Louisiana Air National Guard’s 159th Fighter Wing from Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, La., is participating in a bilateral Flying Training Deployment with the Bulgarian Air Force at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, April 16 – May 5, 2015.

Approximately 150 Airmen from the 159FW, with other U.S. Air Force assets, are participating in Thracian Eagle 2015 to increase joint readiness and build interoperability with the Bulgarian forces.

Lt. Col. Matt Rippen, 159th Operations Group commander, said the strengthened relationships and engagements with allies would demonstrate the U.S. and NATO’s shared commitment to a peaceful, stable and secure Europe.

“We are here to demonstrate our commitment and resolve to our NATO Allies,” said Rippen. “Conducting these bilateral training events helps us strengthen our relationships and improve capabilities.

“The efforts of the 159th Fighter Wing bring the vital contributions of the Air National Guard to enable the Air Force to maintain our global presence and forward presence in Eastern Europe,” Rippen concluded.

The training missions include U.S. Air Force F-15C/D Eagles, Bulgarian MiG-29 fighters, Su-25 ground-support aircraft and anti-aircraft missile complexes. During the missions, pilots will train on air-to-air fighting and on the Balkan country’s anti-aircraft missile defense infrastructure.

“We are going to fly and work together to exchange experience and improve interoperability between our two countries,” said Bulgarian Brig. Gen. Ivan Lalov, Graf Ignatievo Air Base commander. “It is very important to understand each other’s techniques, tactics and procedures.

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