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Thracian Star 21 strengthens partnerships and enhances ability to rapidly deploy

U.S. Air Force Capt. Justin Goar, 555th Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, left, and Bulgarian air force Maj. Petar Milkov, L-39 Albatros instructor, pose for a photo during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ingatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 22, 2021. Thracian Star 21 is a multilateral training exercise with the Bulgarian air force that increases operational capacity, capability and interoperability with Bulgaria. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Justin Goar, 555th Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, left, and Bulgarian air force Maj. Petar Milkov, L-39 Albatros instructor, pose for a photo during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ingatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 22, 2021. Thracian Star 21 is a multilateral training exercise with the Bulgarian air force that increases operational capacity, capability and interoperability with Bulgaria. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jason Anders, 31st Maintenance Squadron aircraft fuels system craftsman, teaches Bulgarian air force members hydrazine emergency response procedures on a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 20, 2021. 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. Thracian Star 21 also enhanced their ability to rapidly deploy to a remote location, establish command and control and deliver lethal airpower more effectively and efficiently anywhere in the world. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jason Anders, 31st Maintenance Squadron aircraft fuels system craftsman, teaches Bulgarian air force members hydrazine emergency response procedures on a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 20, 2021. 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. Thracian Star 21 also enhanced their ability to rapidly deploy to a remote location, establish command and control and deliver lethal airpower more effectively and efficiently anywhere in the world. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

A Bulgarian air force member looks at a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 16, 2021. Thracian Star 21 is a Bulgarian air force-led exercise aiming to enhance interoperability and the ability to rapidly deploy to remote locations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

A Bulgarian air force member looks at a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 16, 2021. Thracian Star 21 is a Bulgarian air force-led exercise aiming to enhance interoperability and the ability to rapidly deploy to remote locations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

A Bulgarian air force Aero L-39 Albatros takes off during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 13, 2021. Thracian Star 21 is a multilateral training exercise with the Bulgarian air force, aimed to increase operational capacity, capability and interoperability with Bulgaria. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

A Bulgarian air force Aero L-39 Albatros takes off during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 13, 2021. Thracian Star 21 is a multilateral training exercise with the Bulgarian air force, aimed to increase operational capacity, capability and interoperability with Bulgaria. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron takes off during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 12, 2021. Exercise objectives included maximizing interoperability, combat effectiveness and survival awareness while operating in a dynamic high-threat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron takes off during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 12, 2021. Exercise objectives included maximizing interoperability, combat effectiveness and survival awareness while operating in a dynamic high-threat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Bulgarian air force members watch an Integrated Combat Turnaround (ICT) demonstration during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 16, 2021. During the ICT, U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 555th Aircraft Maintenance Unit worked together to load munitions while simultaneously refueling the aircraft, while the engine was running. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Bulgarian air force members watch an Integrated Combat Turnaround (ICT) demonstration during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 16, 2021. During the ICT, U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 555th Aircraft Maintenance Unit worked together to load munitions while simultaneously refueling the aircraft, while the engine was running. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Senior Airman James Xiong, 31st Civil Engineer Squadron fire department driver operator, right, teaches Bulgarian air force members F-16 Fighting Falcon emergency response procedures during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ingatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 20, 2021. Participation in Thracian Star 21 offers an opportunity for Airmen to train and hone in on operational and tactical skills. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Senior Airman James Xiong, 31st Civil Engineer Squadron fire department driver operator, right, teaches Bulgarian air force members F-16 Fighting Falcon emergency response procedures during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ingatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 20, 2021. Participation in Thracian Star 21 offers an opportunity for Airmen to train and hone in on operational and tactical skills. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Airman 1st Class Allexis Roberts, 31st Munitions Squadron conventional maintenance crew member, unloads ammunition during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 20, 2021. During TS21, a Bulgarian air force-led exercise, eight U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron dropped 27 inert training munitions, 180 rockets and approximately 7,000 rounds of 20 MM ammunition at a Bulgarian range. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Airman 1st Class Allexis Roberts, 31st Munitions Squadron conventional maintenance crew member, unloads ammunition during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 20, 2021. During TS21, a Bulgarian air force-led exercise, eight U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron dropped 27 inert training munitions, 180 rockets and approximately 7,000 rounds of 20 MM ammunition at a Bulgarian range. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Senior Airman Alexander Smalls, 31st Maintenance Squadron aircrew egress journeyman, left, teaches Bulgarian air force members egress procedures during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 20, 2021. Thracian Star 21 is a multilateral training exercise with the Bulgarian air force that increases operational capacity, capability and interoperability with Bulgaria. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Senior Airman Alexander Smalls, 31st Maintenance Squadron aircrew egress journeyman, left, teaches Bulgarian air force members egress procedures during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 20, 2021. Thracian Star 21 is a multilateral training exercise with the Bulgarian air force that increases operational capacity, capability and interoperability with Bulgaria. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Joel Remsnyder, 555th Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons section chief, middle, teaches armament system familiarization procedures to Bulgarian air force members on a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 16, 2021. More than 150 Airmen and eight F-16s assigned to the 555th FS participated in Thracian Star 21, a Bulgarian air force-led exercise aiming to enhance interoperability and the ability to rapidly deploy to remote locations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)
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U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Joel Remsnyder, 555th Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons section chief, middle, teaches armament system familiarization procedures to Bulgarian air force members on a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 16, 2021. More than 150 Airmen and eight F-16s assigned to the 555th FS participated in Thracian Star 21, a Bulgarian air force-led exercise aiming to enhance interoperability and the ability to rapidly deploy to remote locations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Two U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron taxis on the flightline during Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 20, 2021. Eight F-16s assigned to the 555th FS participated in Thracian Star 21, a Bulgarian air force-led exercise aiming to enhance interoperability and the ability to rapidly deploy to remote locations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)
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Two U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron taxis on the flightline during Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 20, 2021. Eight F-16s assigned to the 555th FS participated in Thracian Star 21, a Bulgarian air force-led exercise aiming to enhance interoperability and the ability to rapidly deploy to remote locations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Bulgarian air force members prepare to taxi on the flightline during Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 20, 2021. The Bulgarian air force has approximately 80 aircraft and 6,500 active duty personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)
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Bulgarian air force members prepare to taxi on the flightline during Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 20, 2021. The Bulgarian air force has approximately 80 aircraft and 6,500 active duty personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

A Bulgarian air force pilot prepares to fly in an Aero L-39 Albatros at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 13, 2021. Successful partnering activities such as Thracian Star 21, a Bulgarian air force-led exercise, 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. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)
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A Bulgarian air force pilot prepares to fly in an Aero L-39 Albatros at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 13, 2021. Successful partnering activities such as Thracian Star 21, a Bulgarian air force-led exercise, 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. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

A Bulgarian air force MiG-29 taxis on the flightline during Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 20, 2021. THS21 allowed both U.S. Airmen and Bulgarian forces to extend joint warfighting capability through operational and tactical training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)
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A Bulgarian air force MiG-29 taxis on the flightline during Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 20, 2021. THS21 allowed both U.S. Airmen and Bulgarian forces to extend joint warfighting capability through operational and tactical training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

GRAF IGNATIEVO AIR BASE, Bulgaria --

More than 150 Airmen and eight F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron, Aviano Air Base, Italy, participated in Thracian Star 21, a Bulgarian air force-led exercise aiming to enhance interoperability and the ability to rapidly deploy to remote locations, July 9-22, 2021.

Thracian Star 21 is a multilateral training exercise designed to increase operational capacity, capability and interoperability with the Bulgarian, Romanian and Hellenic air forces.

Training mission sets, during the exercise, included offensive and defensive counter-air, protection of high value assets, and close air support in a contested environment.

“We flew with the Romanian and Hellenic air forces, and then we flew against the Bulgarian air force SA-6 and SA-8 and that was a really great experience because we don't have that kind of training at Aviano,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Justin Goar, 555th FS F-16 pilot and project officer of Thracian Star 21. "Flying against a live emitter is a once in a lifetime opportunity for a lot of people, so it's great training for us to come out here and fly against a real surface-to-air system.”

Airmen assigned to the 435th Construction and Training Squadron and 4th Combat Training Squadron, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, also participated in Thracian Star 21.

“We flew close air support (CAS) with the Bulgarian SU-25s and that was the first time they've used U.S. JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controller) on the range and that was a highlight,” said Goar. “Normally they don't use JTACs, but as a NATO country they could potentially find themselves working with JTACs and integrating with other NATO air-to-ground assets in the future especially once they get F-16s. That was interesting to see.”

During Thracian Star 21, the U.S. Air Force F-16s were able to employ a variety of munitions at the ranges in Bulgaria. They employed aircraft weapons systems with live ammunition helped service members maintain their familiarization with those systems.

The U.S. Air Force F-16s employed 27 inert training munitions, 180 rockets and approximately 7,000 rounds of 20 MM ammunition, said Tech. Sgt. Kyle Bubb, 31st Munitions Squadron (MUNS) stockpile management production supervisor.

Successful partnering exercises such as Thracian Star 21 result in progressive relationships and leads to tangible, mutual benefits during peacetime and contingencies through actions such as regional security, access and coalition operations.

“Exercises like Thracian Star are critical to the role we play at Aviano as a trusted NATO ally,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Reid Chlasta, 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron officer in charge. “Integrating with our Bulgarian counterparts gives us new perspectives and shows us where and how we can multiply our strengths, especially in functions that directly impact our sortie generation capabilities.”

Bulgaria has established an internal F-16 training program for pilots and maintainers with focused objectives including, but not limited to: F-16 procurement, operation, and sustainment as well as strengthening the Bulgarian air force’s relationship with F-16 regional users and the U.S. Air Force.

“We are eager to have them and we expect in maybe three or four years for the first F-16s to get here and one of the latest modifications, so it will be a really really nice aircraft,” said Bulgarian air force Maj. Petar Milkov, L-39 Albatros instructor pilot and Thracian Star 21 project officer. “We’re supposed to get a total of total aircraft. We already have a contract for the first eight and we already have some of our pilots in the U.S. getting their initial F-16 training.”

Bulgaria seeks to have an active NATO, interoperable, and multirole fighter squadron that participates in multinational fighter exercises.

“In previous years, we flew together in joint missions, and I could say that it's very positive for us,” said Milkov. “I hope that we can participate in more and more exercises, Thracian Star is the largest one.”

U.S. Air Force members conducted different F-16 familiarization training to include hydrazine emergency response procedures and armament system familiarization procedures, with Bulgarian air force members on U.S. Air Force F-16s.

“We were just partnering with the Tennessee National Guard and they’re out here to help train the Bulgarian fire department,” said Tech Sgt. Steven Rousseau, 31st Civil Engineer Squadron fire department assistant chief of operations. “We all collaborated together, because we have the F-16 aircraft. We went over emergency response procedures and the safest way to help make that aircraft fire safe, so that the maintainers and mechanics can do their job.”

Participation in Thracian Star 21 offers an opportunity for Airmen to train and hone in on operational and tactical skills.

“Thracian Star gave us the opportunity to build munitions and rockets as well as work with our maintenance counterparts to hone our ACE (Agile Combat Employment) concept skills and further develop multi-capable Airmen,” said Staff Sgt. Pierre Johnson-Alexander, 31st Munitions Squadron inspector.

Continual exercises like Thracian Star 21 and interactions between allied and partner forces allow allied forces to work together as a team to address security threats and enable all participants to contribute to international coalitions.

“We already built the personal relationships so when the Bulgarians get F-16s in the future it will be a matter of refining the tactics,” said Goar. “We should be able to integrate even more closely at that point so that is why I am excited about participating in future Thracian exercises.”