LA Air Guard deploys to Bulgaria for NATO training exercise Published April 27, 2015 By Master Sgt. Toby Valadie Louisiana Army and Air National Guard PLOVDIV, Bulgaria (AFNS) -- The Louisiana Air National Guard's 159th Fighter Wing from Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, is participating in a bilateral flying training deployment with the Bulgarian Air Force at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, April 16-May 5. Approximately 150 Airmen from the 159th FW, with other U.S. Air Force assets, are participating in Thracian Eagle 2015 to increase joint readiness and build interoperability with the Bulgarian forces. Lt. Col. Matt Rippen, the 159th Operations Group commander, said the strengthened relationships and engagements with allies would demonstrate the U.S. and NATO's shared commitment to a peaceful, stable and secure Europe. "We are here to demonstrate our commitment and resolve to our NATO allies," Rippen said. "Conducting these bilateral training events helps us strengthen our relationships and improve capabilities. "The efforts of the 159th Fighter Wing bring the vital contributions of the Air National Guard to enable the Air Force to maintain our global presence and forward presence in Eastern Europe," Rippen continued. The training missions include U.S. Air Force F-15C/D Eagles, Bulgarian MiG-29 fighters, Su-25 ground-support aircraft and anti-aircraft missile complexes. During the missions, pilots will train on air-to-air fighting and on the Balkan country's anti-aircraft missile defense infrastructure. "We are going to fly and work together to exchange experience and improve interoperability between our two countries," said Bulgarian Brig. Gen. Ivan Lalov, the Graf Ignatievo AB commander. "It is very important to understand each other's techniques, tactics and procedures."