July 25th, 2006 12:44 EST
U.S., Bulgarian air traffic controllers perfect teamwork
GRAF INGNATIEVO AIR BASE, Bulgaria (AFPN) -- Air Force controllers from the 48th Operations Support Squadron have the opportunity to work and build friendships with their Bulgarian counterparts here as part of Exercise Immediate Response 2006.
Bulgaria is a new member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and this exercise gives the Bulgarian military the opportunity to familiarize itself with NATO procedures and processes. The purpose of the exercise is to allow Air Force controllers to share experiences, supervise the operation and assist when needed.
"Since (Bulgaria) became a member of NATO recently, the best way to learn is to practice," said Maj. Stoyan Petkov, Bulgarian tower controller. "Every day we work something new. This is good because this training helps us move into a NATO team more smoothly."
"The operations are running very smooth, and the language barrier is minimal," said Tech. Sgt. Richard Walker, the chief controller for the 48th OSS assistant radar approach control.
Sergeant Walker acts as a military liaison, teacher and supervisor for tower operations. Before operations started July 17, he gave the Bulgarian air traffic controllers a run down of the F-15E Strike Eagle's performance, landing and takeoff procedures. F-15Es from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, are here supporting the tri-lateral NATO exercise.
"I just stand back and observe the operations. If needed, I will help the controller talk to the pilot or assist if a procedure needs to be tweaked," Sergeant Walker said.
Sergeant Walker is not the only U.S. controller working with Bulgarian tower controllers. Tech. Sergeant Andrew Fraser is at the Plovdiv International Airport in case aircraft need to divert.
"Some procedures run differently," Sergeant Fraser said. "Overall, the operations have been running smoothly, and it's been quite enjoyable."
Most of the Bulgarian air traffic controllers have worked with the U.S. Air Force before this exercise. The Bulgarian government is a strong supporter in the war on terrorism, and it has given the Bulgarian military a chance to deploy with U.S. servicemembers.
Bulgarian air traffic controllers have different requirements than U.S. controllers. Instead of trained enlisted members, air traffic control and radar approach operations are performed by pilots or former pilots, and the radar operators are MiG navigators.
"I'm looking forward to working more with the Americans and this training, and the exercise is a step closer a good working relationship," Major Petkov said.