NOVO SELO TRAINING AREA, Bulgaria (Army News Service, Sept. 8, 2008) - A ceremony Sept. 1 marked the official beginning of Joint Task Force-East's training rotation in Bulgaria, and the same day healthcare specialists from the task force began a humanitarian mission in the town of Sungurlare.

Earlier this summer, the task force conducted training in Romania, and while there was a two-week Bulgarian-American combined training exercise last year, this is the first JTF-East training rotation at Novo Selo Training Area, officials said. Bulgaria has troops deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism, and some exercise participants are slated to deploy to Afghanistan in late September.

"There is no doubt in my mind that we will continue to strengthen our already existing bond as we share our respective knowledge and skills as professional Soldiers," said Lt. Col. Sean A. Gainey, commander of Task Force Panther.

The exercise will serve as a platform for U.S. and Bulgarian military forces to exchange ideas and learn from each other Gainey said.

About 900 U.S. and 300 Bulgarian service members are participating in the exercise, and hail from the Utah National Guard and the 3-10 Bulgarian Infantry Battalion. Members of the 212th Combat Support Hospital, out of Kaiserslautern, Germany, are also part of the rotation will conduct six humanitarian-assistance visits to Bulgarian villages during the exercise.

U.S. Army healthcare specialists treated about 90 children, adults and senior in the small Bulgarian town of Sungurlare Sept. 1 and 2, delivering free care. Members of the 212th CSH provided the treatment in a temporary facility they set up at the local primary school.

"If they hadn't come I wouldn't be able to afford this sort of care," said Fana Ilieva Shopova, 86, as she tried out a new pair of glasses.

The CSH offered screenings, eye and dental care, and preventive medicine classes. Several patients offered small amounts of money for the care they received because they could not fathom getting it for free, according to Rositsa Petrova Dimitrova, a translator working in support of the mission.

Sungurlare, a town of 4,000 in Southeast Bulgaria, has no orthodontists and citizens often have to travel far for healthcare.

"These missions make you realize what you have," Master Sgt. Joseph Bailey, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 212th contingent said.

The town's mayor said several local citizens had expressed their gratitude to him for the care they had received.

"This has had a large social impact; I'm delighted by the attention given to the senior citizens of the municipality," Mayor Georgi Kenov said.

Members of the 212th crew were just as delighted to provide the treatment. "It has been a pretty rewarding day," said Lt. Kelly Sullivan, a nurse, adding that she was amazed to see how something as simple as the care they offer could make such a difference in people's lives.

The unit is slated to provide the same care in five other towns in Bulgaria.

(Sgt. Aimee Millham serves as JTF-E Public Affairs.)