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U.S. airmen are becoming a common sight on the streets of Papa, a small town of 32,000 in western Hungary. Personnel from 10 NATO countries and two non-NATO countries have joined forces to form the Strategic Airlift Capability project, a multinational consortium that involves a Heavy Airlift Wing of three C-17s. With about 150 personnel, plus family members and contractors, the international crowd is adding an economic jolt to the sleepy city 100 miles west of Budapest.

U.S. airmen are becoming a common sight on the streets of Papa, a small town of 32,000 in western Hungary. Personnel from 10 NATO countries and two non-NATO countries have joined forces to form the Strategic Airlift Capability project, a multinational consortium that involves a Heavy Airlift Wing of three C-17s. With about 150 personnel, plus family members and contractors, the international crowd is adding an economic jolt to the sleepy city 100 miles west of Budapest. (John Vandiver / S&S)

U.S. airmen are becoming a common sight on the streets of Papa, a small town of 32,000 in western Hungary. Personnel from 10 NATO countries and two non-NATO countries have joined forces to form the Strategic Airlift Capability project, a multinational consortium that involves a Heavy Airlift Wing of three C-17s. With about 150 personnel, plus family members and contractors, the international crowd is adding an economic jolt to the sleepy city 100 miles west of Budapest.

U.S. airmen are becoming a common sight on the streets of Papa, a small town of 32,000 in western Hungary. Personnel from 10 NATO countries and two non-NATO countries have joined forces to form the Strategic Airlift Capability project, a multinational consortium that involves a Heavy Airlift Wing of three C-17s. With about 150 personnel, plus family members and contractors, the international crowd is adding an economic jolt to the sleepy city 100 miles west of Budapest. (John Vandiver / S&S)

First Lt. Szabolcs Szaloky of Hungary gathers up English- language phonebooks at city hall in Papa. Though there are few English speakers in town, city leaders and local business owners have been responding to the need for more English services in an area, where German is the most common second language. English menus are now commonplace at local restaurants.

First Lt. Szabolcs Szaloky of Hungary gathers up English- language phonebooks at city hall in Papa. Though there are few English speakers in town, city leaders and local business owners have been responding to the need for more English services in an area, where German is the most common second language. English menus are now commonplace at local restaurants. (John Vandiver / Stripes)

PAPA, Hungary — It didn’t take long for Master Sgt. Frank Prebble to make an impression on the people of Papa.

At one of the restaurants there’s the "Frank Special," a steak dinner with mashed potatoes cooked to the airman’s specifications. And at his favorite watering hole, his personal hockey gear hangs on the wall of the sports-themed pub alongside other memorabilia.

Despite a language barrier, Prebble finds a way to communicate with the local clientele during poker games and even gets special treatment in the form of free extra helpings of food.

"When I’m somewhere new I really I like to immerse myself in the place," said Prebble, an outgoing Maryland native serving with the new multinational Heavy Airlift Wing at Papa Air Base.

Commanders from the 12 countries involved in the new Strategic Airlift Capability project are looking to recruit people like Prebble who they’ve come to call pioneers.

"If you are not adventurous then this isn’t the job for you," said Col. John Zazworsky, the wing commander.

After all, those troops are on three-year tours in a place where few speak English. Common services such as a commissary, base exchange, base housing or a base school are nonexistent, not to mention VAT cards, tax-free gas or any of the usual accoutrements of an overseas assignment.

There’s no place to hide in Papa or pretend you’re in America, which is an easy thing to do in places like Ramstein.

But what has made the transition to Papa a little easier for this group is that they aren’t in hostile territory. Indeed, many of the locals have embraced the multinational group, who are bringing an economic jolt to the area during difficult financial times.

"All these folks have rolled out the red carpet and given us the VIP treatment," said Lt. Col. Pete Sipos, the flight surgeon, who also is fluent in Hungarian.

Tamas Aldozo, Papa’s vice mayor, said the troops have come at a good time. There are plans for a new 150-room hotel in town to meet the growing need as more people come to Papa on business associated with the air base.

Papa also could be just about the only place where the housing and rental business is booming as wing members arrive with hefty housing allowances in tow.

"It’s very good for the community. My hope is that they (the troops) enjoy themselves here and that the restaurants and businesses pay plenty of taxes to the city," Aldozo said with a smile.

Jennifer Buchanan, an Air Force spouse, said most of the women she talks with have settled in well.

"We’re adjusting. For a lot of us, it’s our first time overseas. It’s going really good so far," Buchanan said.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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