BEZMER AIR BASE, Bulgaria — U.S. and Bulgarian Air Force pilots are honing their close air support and combat search and rescue skills during "Reunion April 2009" here, April 7-28.
While the joint training exercise was a reunion for Bulgarian and American partnership efforts, this is the first time the 81st FS has trained in Bulgaria.
The 81st FS was originally scheduled to train in another country; however, due to some unexpected obstacles, the location was changed to Bulgaria.
"It was not decided until February to come here, and essentially the Bulgarians agreed immediately knocking down all of the road blocks to make it happen," said Col. David Wilmot, U.S. Defense and Air Attache' to Bulgaria. "The amazing part was that even though it was a late add-on by the U.S. Air Force, the Bulgarian government did not hesitate."
Bulgaria offers many unique training opportunities for the Thunderbolt II pilots.
"It is an excellent place to perform our mission and to practice low altitude training," said 1st Lt. Priscilla Giddings, 81st FS pilot. "For the past week, we have been the only aircraft airborne, so we have a huge operating area. We can fly from the surface up to 24,000 feet running though all of our training requirements."
The opportunity to train with the SU-25, an aircraft designed for the same purpose as the A-10, is something the pilots appreciate.
"It has been an amazing opportunity," Giddings said. "They perform together very well because we have similar airspeeds, limitations and capabilities."
In addition to flying with the SU-25s, the pilots have also participated in training scenarios with Mig-29s and AS-532ALs.
"Some of our compatriots who fly air-to-air never get this opportunity," said Lt. Col. Timothy Hogan, 81st FS commander. "It has been very unique for us to be here and sit down to discuss tactics, techniques and procedures. It is fantastic."
Wilmot believes the Airmen who deployed here will leave with more than just increased technical expertise.
The most important part of this is what the pilots, maintainers and other Airmen are going to learn about each other and the relationships they will build, Wilmot said. "This is going to go a long way in solidifying the relationship between the two countries."
If the 81st FS is invited back to Bezmer, Maj. Benjamin Griffith is just one of the pilots here who said he would jump at the chance to return.
"I think any A-10 pilot would jump at the opportunity to come back to Bezmer and accomplish this exercise again," he said. "The training here is really outstanding in terms of weather, lack of airspace restrictions, freedom of movement and a range we could use on a daily basis to deploy weapons -- all of these are available at Bezmer."