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The U.S. military doesn’t plan to start sending troops to Romania and Bulgaria on a regular basis until next year.

But many are scheduled to get a taste of the future starting July 17 when an exercise called Immediate Response 2006, involving troops from all three nations, begins at the Novo Selo Training Area in southern Bulgaria.

About 800 troops will participate. They will train in urban combat, air assault, cross-border convoys and live fire, according to a press release from the Wiesbaden, Germany-based 1st Armored Division, which is coordinating the U.S. portion of the event.

Romania, Bulgaria and the U.S. are all members of NATO, and the exercise is billed as a way to train the nations to work together militarily.

Also participating will be units from the Germany-based U.S. Army Europe, 21st Theater Support Command, 5th Signal Command, 7th Army Reserve Command, and 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command, as well as the Lakenheath, England-based 492nd Fighter Squadron.

The U.S. signed agreements with Romania in December and Bulgaria in April that would enable U.S. forces to use bases in those countries for training for the next 10 years.

The plan, according to U.S. military officials, is for units as large as 2,500-troop brigades to rotate to Romania and Bulgaria for up to six months of training at a time, including training with host-nation troops. The tours would be unaccompanied, meaning U.S. troops would not bring their families along.

According to the agreements, the U.S. would be able to use the Romanian and Bulgarian bases for pre-positioning of equipment, and to send U.S. troops and equipment into war if necessary.

The “forward operating sites,” as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls them, would be in Romania at the Smardan Training Range, Babadag Training Area and Rail Head, Mihail Kogalniceanu air base, and Cincu Training Range.

In Bulgaria, they would be at the Bezmer and the Graf Ignatievo air bases and at Novo Selo.

Romania and Bulgaria are next to each other along the Black Sea, northwest of Turkey. Both are former Communist-ruled nations of the Soviet bloc that fell apart in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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