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Sgt. 1st Class James Browning of Company C, 3rd Combined Arms Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, watches an Air Force C-5 transport plane taxi Saturday, June 20, 2015, while waiting to load an M1A2 Abrams tank onto a C-17 transport plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Sgt. 1st Class James Browning of Company C, 3rd Combined Arms Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, watches an Air Force C-5 transport plane taxi Saturday, June 20, 2015, while waiting to load an M1A2 Abrams tank onto a C-17 transport plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. (Matt Millham/Stars and Stripes)

Sgt. 1st Class James Browning of Company C, 3rd Combined Arms Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, watches an Air Force C-5 transport plane taxi Saturday, June 20, 2015, while waiting to load an M1A2 Abrams tank onto a C-17 transport plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Sgt. 1st Class James Browning of Company C, 3rd Combined Arms Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, watches an Air Force C-5 transport plane taxi Saturday, June 20, 2015, while waiting to load an M1A2 Abrams tank onto a C-17 transport plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. (Matt Millham/Stars and Stripes)

Pfc. James Borgerding, left, Spc. Luis Aguilar and Spc. Cody Hampton, all of Company C, 3rd Combined Arms Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, play basketball Saturday, June 20, 2015, while waiting to load an M1A2 Abrams tank onto a C-17 transport plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Pfc. James Borgerding, left, Spc. Luis Aguilar and Spc. Cody Hampton, all of Company C, 3rd Combined Arms Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, play basketball Saturday, June 20, 2015, while waiting to load an M1A2 Abrams tank onto a C-17 transport plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. (Matt Millham/Stars and Stripes)

Soldiers talk to the driver of an M1A2 Abrams tank prior to it being loaded onto a C-17 transport plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Saturday, June 20, 2015. The Army is sending two tanks to Bulgaria for a live-fire exercise next week.

Soldiers talk to the driver of an M1A2 Abrams tank prior to it being loaded onto a C-17 transport plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Saturday, June 20, 2015. The Army is sending two tanks to Bulgaria for a live-fire exercise next week. (Matt Millham/Stars and Stripes)

Soldiers and airmen prepare to load an M1A2 Abrams tank onto a C-17 transport plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, on Saturday, June 20, 2015.

Soldiers and airmen prepare to load an M1A2 Abrams tank onto a C-17 transport plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, on Saturday, June 20, 2015. (Matt Millham/Stars and Stripes)

Soldiers and airmen prepare to load an M1A2 Abrams tank onto a C-17 transport plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Saturday, June 20, 2015. The tank is one of two headed to Bulgaria for a live-fire exercise next week.

Soldiers and airmen prepare to load an M1A2 Abrams tank onto a C-17 transport plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Saturday, June 20, 2015. The tank is one of two headed to Bulgaria for a live-fire exercise next week. (Matt Millham/Stars and Stripes)

An Air Force crew chief directs and M1A2 Abrams tank into  a C-17 transport plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germanyon  Saturday, June 20, 2015. The tank is one of two headed to Bulgaria for a live-fire exercise next week.

An Air Force crew chief directs and M1A2 Abrams tank into a C-17 transport plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germanyon Saturday, June 20, 2015. The tank is one of two headed to Bulgaria for a live-fire exercise next week. (Matt Millham/Stars and Stripes)

Spc. Seth Lantz, an Abrams tank driver with Company C, 3rd Combined Arms Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, waits for instructions from an Air Force crew chief while loading his M1A2 tank onto an Air Force C-17 Saturday, June 20, 2015, at Rammstein Air Base in Germany. The tank is one of two headed to Bulgaria for a live-fire exercise next week.

Spc. Seth Lantz, an Abrams tank driver with Company C, 3rd Combined Arms Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, waits for instructions from an Air Force crew chief while loading his M1A2 tank onto an Air Force C-17 Saturday, June 20, 2015, at Rammstein Air Base in Germany. The tank is one of two headed to Bulgaria for a live-fire exercise next week. (Matt Millham/Stars and Stripes)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The U.S. military loaded the first of two Abrams tanks onto a C-17 transport plane Saturday morning for a live-fire demonstration in Bulgaria.

Next week’s “Speed and Power” exercise at Bulgaria’s Novo Selo Training Area is meant to reassure NATO allies and demonstrate the U.S. military’s ability to rapidly deploy materiel around Europe. It’s only expected to last just a few days, but it is one of a raft of events the U.S. and its NATO allies have added to their schedule in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

“The point of all this is to show not only our NATO allies the power of the M1A2, but to also show our adversaries that we have the power and coordination to quickly and rapidly move M1A2s to various countries throughout Europe,” said 1st Lt. Frank Wood, who is leading the two-tank formation from 3rd Infantry Division’s 3rd Combined Arms Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment out of Fort Stewart, Ga.

U.S. military officials promoted the “firsts” the exercise represented – the first time Abrams tanks would be airlifted within Europe and the first time American tanks would fire in Bulgaria. But both things had been done before.

In 2005, two M1 Abrams tanks and two Bradley fighting vehicles were airlifted from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, into Bulgaria’s Bezmer Air Base for Immediate Response 05, a three-week exercise at Bulgaria’s Novo Selo training area. USAREUR also rail-loaded two tanks to the exercise, which involved some 1,300 American troops and live-fire tank maneuvers.

The U.S. has also never fired a tank in Bulgaria before, he said. “So that will be the big, climactic part of this.”

The tanks are part of USAREUR’s “European Activity Set,” a collection of armor and other equipment staged in Europe for contingency operations. The EAS is being expanded from a heavy battalion to a heavy brigade’s worth of equipment.

Much of that expansion is coming from the 3rd Infantry Division. About 120 pieces of their equipment that arrived in Europe in March will be left behind.

In Europe for three months already, the soldiers of 3-69 worked with Bulgarian troops at the U.S. training center in Hohenfels, Germany, prior to shipping out to the Black Sea country.

“They definitely loved our tanks,” Woods said.

millham.matthew@stripes.com

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