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It’s going to be a busy 10 days for the U.S. and Bulgarian soldiers who joined forces Monday at the Novo Selo Training Area in Bulgaria.

In addition to both groups familiarizing themselves with one another’s weapons and combat techniques as part of the Lion Strike exercise, some of the American soldiers — from the 1st Battalion, 94th Artillery Regiment based in Idar-Oberstein, Germany — will train their counterparts on how to drive Humvees.

“They’re going to be rotating some Bulgarian soldiers into Afghanistan, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to offer this training while we’re here,” said Master Sgt. Kimberly Williams, public affairs officer for the multinational forces in Bulgaria, under the command of Joint Task Force-East. “We’re looking to build on each other’s strengths.”

The 10-day mission in Bulgaria, which includes 100 American soldiers and 60 Bulgarian soldiers, is part of the larger Proof of Principle exercise based at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania for Joint Task Force-East. The exercise will frame the U.S. military’s plan to expand into the former communist countries, which joined NATO in 2004.

Troops finish the initial exercise Oct. 22, with permanent rotations to Romania and Bulgaria beginning as early as next summer.

U.S. forces also are reaching out to the civilian community in Bulgaria with the help of 11 Navy Seabees from the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 40 based in Port Hueneme, Calif.

The Seabees are repairing a school and a retirement home near Novo Selo this week and next.

“Part of what we’re doing is trying to build ties with the local community, too,” Williams said. “It’s going to be a very busy 10 days. Hopefully, we’ll accomplish it all.”

Internet access and commercial phone lines have been established by two soldiers who joined Lion Strike from the 509th Signal Battalion, based in Vicenza, Italy.

Though they have worked with the Americans only a few days, the Bulgarians have “been extremely professional and pleasant and easy to work with,” Williams said.

During an opening ceremony Monday, soldiers from the two countries, who stood separately as the service began, came together in one formation to symbolize the joining of the two nations.

“The other members of NATO have our country for a reliable partner and ally,” Brig. Gen. Stefan Vassilev, assistant chief of training for the Bulgarian Land Forces general staff, said in a recent U.S. Army press release.

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