U.S., Bulgarian Airmen train together to enhance combat search and rescue capabilities
NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria - Fighter pilots from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and Bezmer Air Base, Bulgaria, participated in an integrate combat search and rescue training scenario April 15, 2009.
NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria — First Lt. Mike "Vago" Hilkert, a pilot assigned to the 81st Fighter Squadron (right), trains a Bulgarian fighter pilot (left), on using reflective materials to signal a search and rescue helicopter April 15, 2009. (Department of Defense photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Bill Gomez)
4 photos: NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria — First Lt. Mike "Vago" Hilkert, a pilot assigned to the 81st Fighter Squadron (right), trains a Bulgarian fighter pilot (left), on using reflective materials t
Photo 1 of 4: NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria — First Lt. Mike "Vago" Hilkert, a pilot assigned to the 81st Fighter Squadron (right), trains a Bulgarian fighter pilot (left), on using reflective materials to signal a search and rescue helicopter April 15, 2009. (Department of Defense photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Bill Gomez) Download full-resolution version
NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria — A Bulgarian AS-532AL Cougar helicopter and its search and rescue team arrive to the aid of simulated downed pilots First Lt. Mike "Vago" Hilkert, 81st Fighter Squadron A-10 pilot (left), and Capt. Petrov Boislav, a Bulgarian fighter pilot (right), April 15, 2009. The scenario was staged in support of "Reunion April 2009," a joint combat search and rescue training exercise between the U.S. and Bulgarian Air Forces. (Department of Defense photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Bill Gomez)
4 photos: NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria — A Bulgarian AS-532AL Cougar helicopter and its search and rescue team arrive to the aid of simulated downed pilots First Lt. Mike "Vago" Hilkert, 81st Fighter
Photo 2 of 4: NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria — A Bulgarian AS-532AL Cougar helicopter and its search and rescue team arrive to the aid of simulated downed pilots First Lt. Mike "Vago" Hilkert, 81st Fighter Squadron A-10 pilot (left), and Capt. Petrov Boislav, a Bulgarian fighter pilot (right), April 15, 2009. The scenario was staged in support of "Reunion April 2009," a joint combat search and rescue training exercise between the U.S. and Bulgarian Air Forces. (Department of Defense photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Bill Gomez) Download full-resolution version
NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria — A Bulgarian AS-532AL Cougar helicopter hovers overhead in search of simulated downed NATO pilots April 15, 2009. The helicopters were used to support "Reunion April 2009," a joint combat search and rescue training exercise between the U.S. and Bulgarian Air Forces. (Department of Defense photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Bill Gomez)
4 photos: NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria — A Bulgarian AS-532AL Cougar helicopter hovers overhead in search of simulated downed NATO pilots April 15, 2009. The helicopters were used to support "Reunion Apr
Photo 3 of 4: NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria — A Bulgarian AS-532AL Cougar helicopter hovers overhead in search of simulated downed NATO pilots April 15, 2009. The helicopters were used to support "Reunion April 2009," a joint combat search and rescue training exercise between the U.S. and Bulgarian Air Forces. (Department of Defense photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Bill Gomez) Download full-resolution version
NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria — A Bulgarian AS-532AL Cougar helicopter hovers overhead in search of simulated downed NATO pilots April 15, 2009. The helicopters were used to support "Reunion April 2009," a joint combat search and rescue training exercise between the U.S. and Bulgarian Air Forces. (Department of Defense photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Bill Gomez)
4 photos: NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria — A Bulgarian AS-532AL Cougar helicopter hovers overhead in search of simulated downed NATO pilots April 15, 2009. The helicopters were used to support "Reunion Apr
Photo 4 of 4: NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria — A Bulgarian AS-532AL Cougar helicopter hovers overhead in search of simulated downed NATO pilots April 15, 2009. The helicopters were used to support "Reunion April 2009," a joint combat search and rescue training exercise between the U.S. and Bulgarian Air Forces. (Department of Defense photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Bill Gomez) Download full-resolution version
NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria — First Lt. Mike "Vago" Hilkert, a pilot assigned to the 81st Fighter Squadron (right), trains a Bulgarian fighter pilot (left), on using reflective materials to signal a search and rescue helicopter April 15, 2009. (Department of Defense photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Bill Gomez)
NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria — A Bulgarian AS-532AL Cougar helicopter and its search and rescue team arrive to the aid of simulated downed pilots First Lt. Mike "Vago" Hilkert, 81st Fighter Squadron A-10 pilot (left), and Capt. Petrov Boislav, a Bulgarian fighter pilot (right), April 15, 2009. The scenario was staged in support of "Reunion April 2009," a joint combat search and rescue training exercise between the U.S. and Bulgarian Air Forces. (Department of Defense photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Bill Gomez)
NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria — A Bulgarian AS-532AL Cougar helicopter hovers overhead in search of simulated downed NATO pilots April 15, 2009. The helicopters were used to support "Reunion April 2009," a joint combat search and rescue training exercise between the U.S. and Bulgarian Air Forces. (Department of Defense photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Bill Gomez)
NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria — A Bulgarian AS-532AL Cougar helicopter hovers overhead in search of simulated downed NATO pilots April 15, 2009. The helicopters were used to support "Reunion April 2009," a joint combat search and rescue training exercise between the U.S. and Bulgarian Air Forces. (Department of Defense photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Bill Gomez)

NOVO SELO RANGE, Bulgaria — Fighter pilots from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and Bezmer Air Base, Bulgaria, participated in an integrate combat search and rescue training scenario April 15, 2009.

The A-10 and SU-25 pilots provided protective cover for three downed Airmen in hostile territory, while their rescue was coordinated with a Bulgarian AS-532AL helicopter as part of "Reunion April 2009" training.

During the training mission SU-25 pilots flew into the airspace over the downed U.S. and Bulgarian airmen to suppress enemy forces with their 30-mm gun. After the initial suppression fire was laid, A-10s pilots navigated the area searching for the airmen while evading enemy fire.

When a fixed location was determined and the airmen's identification was verified AS-532AL helicopters flew into the hot zone to for the rescue as A-10 pilots continued to provide protection against enemy threats.

This is the first time 1st Lt. Mike "Vago" Hilkert, 81st Fighter Squadron pilot, has simulated being a pilot in need of rescue during a CSAR training mission.

"Combat search and rescue is a big job for us," the lieutenant said. "It was kind of fun (being out there on the ground) teaching a Bulgarian pilot the way we work and helping him."

This is the first time the 81st FS pilots have flown alongside SU-25s and AS-532ALs.

"Anytime we get to work hand and hand with other NATO countries, it helps our training and it helps their training as well," Hilkert said. "Thankfully, being based out of Spangdahlem we get to work with other NATO countries."

To make sure the mission ran smoothly, a team of tactical air control party airmen was on hand to clear aircraft coming over the range to release weapons.

"We get the aircraft's eyes onto the target, get them clearance and deconflict airspace, actually give them clearance to drop onto the target," said Airman Truman Smith, 2nd Air Support Operations Squadron out of Vilseck, Germany. "We also do a lot of liaison work with the ground commander because it is his ground. So we have to get his approval to actually get the bombs on target."

The Bulgarians required the TACPs participation in "Reunion April 2009."

"The Bulgarians actually said they did not want anybody dropping live on the range unless there was a JTAC giving the 'cleared hot' call because we are able to make sure they are actually on target, everyone was out of the way and no one is going to get hurt," said Smith, a tactical air control party radio operator, maintainer and driver.

The TACPs have spent their time here running training scenarios for the pilots that reflect real world situations they may face.

"One of the scenarios we did, we were up close and identified different targets," Smith said. "Once they took out one target we started taking mortars, so we had to move to another area and have the aircraft destroy the mortar team. Then we were able to safely get back to our observation point and start taking out other targets."

The Bulgarian air force is working on creating a TACP program, so the Vilseck airmen have been working closely with Bulgarian pilots in the field.

"We have learned a lot from them, and I believe they have learned a lot from us," Airman Smith said.

In addition to teaching the Bulgarians about the TACP program the U.S. pilots and TACPs have learned a lot from interacting with one another.

Actually being able to talk to the pilots, see their video and describe what both sides did and why is beneficial, Smith said. "They ask us questions like 'why did you do this' or say 'this would be more helpful.' They also give us suggestions on how to make it more realistic.

"This has been a really good experience- both working with foreign forces and getting hands-on with the pilots," Smith said. "Getting one on one time with the pilots a fantastic experience that we don't usually get."

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