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Bulgaria, US commence joint air policing

GRAF IGNATIEVO, Bulgaria (AFNS) -- The U.S. and Bulgarian air forces are conducting a joint NATO air policing mission in Bulgaria Sept. 9-16, which enables on-demand response capabilities that serve to mitigate and deter violations and infringements on Bulgarian sovereign airspace.

Working alongside the Bulgarian Air Force are four F-15C Eagles from the California and Massachusetts Air National Guards, along with approximately 75 Airmen from the 194th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.

“It’s quite an honor to be the first-ever U.S. or NATO participant here in Bulgaria for this mission,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Ohman, a 194th EFS F-15C pilot. “It’s awesome just to be able to work with the people here who have gone out of their way to really facilitate our being here.”

The Bulgarian Parliament approved joint national air policing in February 2016. The U.S. Air Force has regularly supported NATO allies to defend their airspace in line with security commitments to NATO. The 194th EFS previously conducted joint air policing in Iceland in March 2016, which marked the first of its kind under the concurrent Operation Atlantic Resolve mission.

The 194th EFS aircraft forward deployed to Graf Ignatievo from Campia Turzii, Romania, where the squadron serves as a theater security package deployment to Europe as a part of OAR.

The squadron represents a total force endeavor, comprised of ANG and Air Force Reserve Airmen from the 144th Fighter Wing at Fresno Air National Guard Base, California, and the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes ANGB, Massachusetts, alongside active-duty Airmen in support roles from the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.

“This is something that we do naturally back in Fresno at the 144th (Fighter Wing),” said Lt. Col. Cesar Gonzalez, a 194th EFS aircraft maintenance commander. “Our Guardsmen protect, and we’re on alert protecting the homefront and the western front. What a great opportunity to do the same for … Europe.”

Gonzalez also said both the joint air policing and the theater security package deployment will allow 194th EFS Airmen to remain current on their training with their active-duty counterparts while assisting a NATO ally with policing the integrity of its borders.

“It’s important that we are standing side by side with our NATO allies,” he said. “We are committed to the security of Europe and helping Bulgaria and countries who ask for our help.”

The 194th EFS has carried out bilateral flight operations to bolster interoperability among NATO allies and partner nations like the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Romania, Bulgaria and Iceland since their deployment began in March 2016.