|Bulgaria Hosts U.S. Military Mission |
Bulgaria Hosts U.S. Military Mission
By Major Mike Young, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Public Affairs.
Sofia, Bulgaria -- (AFPN) December 21, 2001-- The leaders of Bulgaria recently took direct action to support Operation Enduring Freedom by allowing U.S. military forces to base operations in this former Communist republic for the first time in history.
About 200 support and operations airmen deployed to Bulgaria make up the 351st Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron. The unit, based at Camp Sarafovo on the shores of the Black Sea near the city of Burgas, flies air refueling missions for aircraft providing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
"It’s of primary importance to us," said Petko Draganov, deputy minister of foreign affairs for Bulgaria. "We are very active in what we call the global coalition against terrorism, and since Day One, we’ve stood up and made our position known -- a position of not only the government, but of the whole public opinion."
The Bulgarians have participated in Partnership for Peace exercises in the past and have regularly played host to people from throughout the U.S. military during brief visits through the military-to-military Joint Contact Team Program. However, this mission is different from anything the United States has ever conducted before in Bulgaria.
The U.S. government, through the embassy in Sofia, approached Bulgarian officials about this operation, Draganov said.
"The embassy called us and we had a meeting, but we didn’t have much time because of the necessity of the operation," he said. "Keeping it under wrap until it became a reality was very important."
Since this is the first long-term stay for U.S. forces within Bulgaria, the decision to support the operation had to be approved at the highest level of government.
"We had to go through a difficult constitutional procedure as any country would when allowing foreign military to rest on your soil," Draganov said. "But it all went very smooth and I was really satisfied by the fact that when it came to parliament, 100 percent of the members of parliament voted for it."
The ordinary citizens are quite ecstatic about the American presence, he said.
"Probably not a lot of people in American know this, but we’ve been looking forward to this for a long time," Draganov said. "We are very satisfied so far and we hope the whole operation runs smoothly, (and) that we are mutually satisfied with the outcome. This is something many of our people have been expecting for a long time, he said, and now it’s a reality."
(Courtesy of USAFE News Service)