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HEIDELBERG, Germany — Army officials are planning to dispatch a battalion of light infantry soldiers and logistics troops to Bulgaria for the first time this summer for a two-month exercise called Bulwark ’04.

In the past, Bulgaria served as a U.S. logistics hub for units moving in and out of Central Asia and the Middle East. Bulwark ’04 marks the first significant U.S. maneuvers in the former Soviet bloc country.

The live-fire war games will be conducted at the Bulgarian army’s Novo Selo training area and involve some 1,100 U.S. troops, as well as a platoon of Bulgarian infantry, said Col. Mike Flanagan, deputy commander of U.S. Army Europe’s 18th Engineer Brigade, which is overseeing the maneuvers.

Flanagan said Germany-based troops from his 18th Engineer Brigade, 7th Army Training Command, and 21st Theater Support Command — as well as medical and communications detachments — will begin setting up a tent city and support facilities for the exercises in early July.

About 600 light infantrymen from the Illinois National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment will arrive in mid-July. Their training, Flanagan said, will emphasize urban warfare skills and combat convoy operations.

Although Flanagan said he is unaware if the battalion is expected to deploy to the Middle East any time soon, the training package is similar to those designed for units on their way to Iraq.

Tim Franklin, a spokesman for the Illinois National Guard, said the battalion is not currently on deployment orders for the Middle East.

Bulwark ’04 is slated to wrap up at the end of August, but plans are already under way for Bulwark ’05, said Flanagan.

“It’s not necessarily going to be in the same place, doing the same things,” he said, adding, “It could very well be in a different country in that region.”

The summer training plans come as top U.S. military leaders are preparing to announce a reorganization of overseas forces that could include establishing bare-bones bases and training areas in Eastern Europe.

While the U.S. European Command chief, Marine Gen. James Jones, specifically pointed to Bulgaria as a likely host for such “forward operating sites,” military officials this week distanced Bulwark ’04 from those plans.

Novo Selo is one of two main training ranges Bulgarian officials have offered for U.S. basing. The maneuver grounds, which sit in a deep mountain valley offering virtually unrestricted live-fire training, have already become a popular area for French forces who have conducted their own exercises there in recent years.

Military officials, however, are distancing Bulwark ’04 from the those plans.

“This exercise isn’t part of that,” said Col. Mike Flanagan, deputy commander of U.S. Army Europe’s 18th Engineer Brigade, which is overseeing the maneuvers. “It’s simply a training exercise with a new NATO partner.”

EUCOM officials declined to comment on the exercise.

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