NOVO SELO TRAINING AREA, Bulgaria — The war on terrorism has forced troops of all ranks and nationalities to fight while establishing bases simultaneously, but most of all to think on their feet.
The Army and Air Force call this mind-set “expeditionary,” said Col. John Sterling, commander of Bulwark ’04, the first and largest combined exercise with Bulgarian soldiers since the country joined NATO in May.
“The word ‘expeditionary’ implies the ability to do a lot of things,” Sterling said, “to deploy, establish a base and execute the operation.”
A group of 22 Bulgarian soldiers have been reinforcing those skills with U.S. troops this week during various exercises at the Bulgarian Land Forces’ Novo Selo Training Area, about 25 miles from Sliven, Bulgaria.
Some of those soldiers have already served in Iraq. Others in the group have volunteered to join or replace some of their comrades, numbering about 580, currently in Iraq and the roughly 60 troops supporting coalition forces in Afghanistan.
“There are a lot of things to learn from these exercises,” said Pvt. Atanas Kovachev, of the 61st Striema’s Mechanized Brigade from Karlovo, Bulgaria.
In addition to learning such techniques as clearing a room, the Bulgarian soldiers tried, for the very first time, Deployable Instrumental Systems in Europe, or DISE, a system used to track soldiers in war games.
To help with the language barrier, interpreters were on hand at every step of the training, said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Wenthe, of the Illinois National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment.
But, the soldier’s code of hand and eye signals did the talking for most of the exercise.
“We’re both soldiers and we come from the same common bond,” Wenthe said of Kovachev. “We know what it’s like, so what we do every day is not that much different from what they do.”
After all, one day Wenthe and Kovachev may meet again, maybe in Baghdad.
To add to the realism, the Military Operations in Urban Terrain exercises and the convoy exercises are based on real downrange experiences. Some of the MOUT training and layout was based on Al Schweb, a district of southwest Baghdad, said Capt. Phillip Sounia, 7th Army Training Center observer/controller.
Even political and social sensibilities are touched upon by 7th ATC members when they critique the squads following each scenario.
“You really have to show guys that people are people,” said Sounia, who deployed to Iraq last year. “In the world we are working in today in Iraq, you just don’t go throw grenades into people’s houses.
“A lot of suspected enemies are just an element of their environment.”