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Minnesota National Guard
Minnesota's 148th Fighter Wing participates in three European total force exercises

Minnesota National Guard GRAFF IGNATIEVO AIR FORCE BASE, Bulgaria- Members of the 148th Fighter Wing, Minnesota Air National Guard joined forces with military partners overseas and successfully completed several multi-lateral total force exercises to include Thracian Star, BALTOPS and Saber Strike

Thracian Star, organized by the Bulgarian Air Force, took place between May 25 and June 4 at Graff Ignatievo Air Force Base, Bulgaria

Exercise participants include Bulgarian, Hellenic and Romanian Air Forces, along with the Minnesota and Tennessee Air National Guard The purpose of the training event was to enhance interoperability with the Bulgarian, Hellenic, and Romanian Air Forces to bolster readiness to conduct combined air operations

"Exercises like this are a fantastic way to come together with our NATO partners and share our ways of operating," said Col Jon Safstrom, Vice Commander, 148th Fighter Wing "It allows everybody to see the way others operate; we can ask questions and hopefully walk away with a better understanding and a better way forward"

During the exercise, US forces worked directly with their Bulgarian counterparts on the ground and in the air Bulgaria's current fighter fleet is comprised of MiG-29s The 148th Fighter Wing sent F-16 Block 50s, and the Tennessee National Guard's 134th Air Refueling Wing provided refueling support with a KC-135

The event is a yearly Bulgarian exercise that has been held since 2005 Training included interception and air combat This year the exercise expanded to include neighboring countries as well as the United States

"Exercises like this give pilots the ability to work on tactics and techniques that they wouldn't get in day-to-day training missions," said Gen Frank Gorenc, Commander of the US Air Forces in Europe "The Bulgarian contribution to air policing has been effective and steady, and it's needed to maintain the sovereignty of NATO airspace"

The 148th FW sent eight F-16s, along with 120 Airmen, comprised of 20 different career fields to include operations, maintenance, security, intelligence, logistics and communications

"The experience has been great," said Chief Master Sgt Paul Poppenberg, 148th Aircraft Maintenance Superintendent "Being able to work one-on-one with your foreign counterpart, there's a lot of good training going on for both sides Communication and language can be a barrier at times, but you work through it"

Following Thracian Star, members of the 148th FW traveled to Amari Air Base, Estonia to participate in joint training exercises BALTOPS and Saber Strike, which run concurrently June 9-20 Saber Strike facilitates cooperation between the United States, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia while BALTOPS is a joint exercise to enhance multinational maritime capabilities and interoperability, and improve involvement in the larger Baltic region Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) strategy

Saber Strike is a long-standing US Army Europe-led training exercise held annually since 2011 Additional nations participating include Denmark, Finland, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States Throughout Saber Strike, the 148th provided close air support with partner nation ground forces

Twelve countries participated in the 42nd annual BALTOPS exercise: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States US Naval Forces-Europe was the lead component for BALTOPS The 148th FW provided maritime interdiction and dissimilar air combat training Approximately 1,300 US Service members participated in the exercise

June 23, 2014
by Capt Jodi Kiminski
148th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

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