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Good relations key to deployment success

BURGAS, Bulgaria (AFPN) -- A contingent of deployed airmen from the 409th Air Expeditionary Group here visited a local primary school March 17 at the request of school officials.

The group of visitors was made up of a flight surgeon, aircrew members, two security forces dog handlers and their canine Waldo, and others, all led by the unit's commander, Col. Jim Muscatell.

"It's such a thrill to visit the school," Muscatell said to the school's principal, Aneta Dimova.

"My wife is a school teacher, so I have a real appreciation for what you do," he told teachers at the school..

The airmen from nearby Camp Sarafovo split into three groups, visited more than 350 students and answered questions about everything from their impressions of Bulgaria to life in America.

"Kids are the same no matter where you go, but the reception we received today was heart-warming," said Muscatell.

The warmth of the Bulgarian people was also highlighted during a recent visit to the 409th AEG by U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James W. Pardew.

"Community outreach is important to the success of the 409th's mission, and you'll experience how receptive your host nation can be," said Pardew.

Camp Sarafovo is home to the 409th AEG which runs air refueling operations with KC-10 Extender aircraft deployed to Burgas Airport. Airmen from Air Force units worldwide are deployed with the 409th AEG supporting the war on terrorism and future potential operations.

With between 300 and 400 airmen in one place, you need a lot of support from the host country, said Muscatell, and the Bulgarians have been extremely gracious and accommodating.

One of the most critical areas of support deals with security concerns.

"We've employed 40 Bulgarian national police officers to assist us with security operations," said Lt. Col. Jim Scanlan, 409th AEG deputy commander.

The relationship is reciprocal too, he said.

"Since our arrival just over a month ago, we've spent $1.7 million on contracts to support both the airfield and camp areas and $140,000 on supplies and materials," said Scanlan.

The unit also employs 64 support workers and 10 translators, all from the local community.

"We're making improvements every day," said Muscatell, "and a lot of those improvements are the result of the joint-working relationship between our contract workers and our civil engineer team."

Progress is made daily, said Muscatell, and it is because of the camp's hosts.

"Today we went to the primary school in Burgas to repay our hosts, to give something to the kids, but again, we got a lot more back than we gave."

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