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Ramstein airmen join Bulgarian forces in paradrop exercises near NATO’s eastern borders

A container delivery system falls to the drop zone during exercise Thracian Summer at Cheshnegirovo landing zone, Bulgaria, Aug. 19, 2020.

DEVIN NOTHSTINE/U.S. AIR FORCE

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 20, 2020

Airmen and C-130J aircraft from Ramstein’s 37th Airlift Squadron are conducting paradrop exercises in Bulgaria, a Black Sea nation on NATO’s southeastern flank.

About 750 U.S. and Bulgarian service members are participating in the deployment, which includes joint low-level training flights by the C-130Js and Bulgarian C-27 Spartan transports.

The Thracian Summer exercise comes as the U.S. defense posture in Europe shifts toward the Black Sea region, where Russia has been increasingly assertive following its 2008 war with Georgia and the occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

NATO’s troop presence in the Black Sea region has been limited in contrast to the thousands of allied troops deployed to Poland and the Baltic nations to counter possible Russian threats. But last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced that a Stryker brigade will be sent to the region as part of the wider plan to restructure the presence of U.S. forces in Europe. The Navy has also regularly sent ships on patrols in the Black Sea in recent years.

Thracian Summer, previously held in 2018, is taking place at the international airport near the city of Plovdiv in central Bulgaria and the nearby Cheshnegirovo Air Base.

“Forward locations, like Plovdiv Airport and Cheshnegirovo, enable a collective defense capability and provide the U.S. and NATO the strategic and operational breadth needed to deter adversaries and assure partner nations,” the Ramstein-based 86th Airlift Wing said in a statement.

The exercise is scheduled to end Aug. 28. A follow-on NATO exercise in September will include U.S. F-16 fighters and Bulgarian MiG-29 fighters, Bulgarian media reports said.

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A U.S. C-130J Super Hercules aircraft assigned to the 37th Airlift Squadron and Bulgarian C-27J Spartan aircraft approach the drop zone during Thracian Summer 2020 at Cheshnegirovo landing zone, Bulgaria, Aug. 19, 2020. The aircraft dropped container delivery systems and Bulgarian air force parajumpers.
DEVIN NOTHSTINE/U.S. AIR FORCE