Editor's Note: The following story and photos are from Army & Air Force Hometown News Service.
MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIR BASE, Romania Nearly 40 years ago, murals depicting the glory of the Soviet military were freshly painted at the Novo Selo training area in Bulgaria. Today, nearly 20 years after the end of the Cold War they are flaking, subdued images of a bygone era. Now, artificial thunder echoes through the hills as a Bulgarian M1117 Guardian armored security vehicle runs the training course, mowing down targets with fire from its mounted heavy machine gun.
The son of a Minot couple is faced with these reminders of the Cold War and the difficulties of conducting U.S. Army business in a foreign nation, as a member of Joint Task Force-East, a multi-national task force designed to make stronger allies of Romania and Bulgaria.
Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Ibay
The operation hones the skills of soldiers from all three nations as well as helping the people living in some of the poorest areas of the two European countries.
Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Ibay, son of Enrique and Karen Ibay, Minot, is a combat engineer with the 15th Engineer Battalion in Schweinfurt, Germany, and is currently deployed to Bulgaria to support the task force, based at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania.
"I am the operations noncommissioned officer in charge of operations here," said the 1995 Minot High School graduate.
Soldiers from all three countries trained together in individual and company-level movements as well as with armored vehicles, a variety of weapons and combat lifesaving skills. They also practiced the coordination needed to go into and clear a hostile urban area. In addition to the training, the soldiers took time to visit a number of local villages and allowed children to explore the vehicles they were using.
"We're teaching the Bulgarians basic weapons knowledge for a U.S. designed vehicle they will be adding to their forces," said Ibay. "We're out here just to make sure they have what they need to work with this new equipment."
Military training wasn't the only reason American service members were in Romania and Bulgaria. A group of doctors and nurses traveled to several villages around the training bases in both countries. The team worked with local health-care workers and translators to provide screenings for optical and other general health concerns. There was also a team of Navy Seabees helping renovate and upgrade local schools and medical facilities.
In spite of the language barrier and cultural differences the American soldiers and their Bulgarian or Romanian counterparts were usually able to get their messages across.
"I like to see the different military tactics that foreign militaries use," said Ibay, who has been in the Army for 11 years and has deployed to Iraq. "The knowledge and capabilities of other militaries is useful when incorporating into joint forces missions."
Whether building new schools, bringing medical services to villages or practicing the art of war, Romanian, Bulgarian and American service members, like Ibay, are working to keep the positive relationships going long after everyone has gone home. The relationships built on this training ground will go a long way toward making sure the three nations can work together seamlessly.