NOVO SELO TRAINING AREA, Bulgaria -- The 'Sky Soldiers' of the 173rd Airborne Brigade out of Vicenza, Italy, conducted a combined arms live-fire exercise here Bulgaria, Sept. 5.

The CALFX provided a platform for the U.S. Army and Bulgarian Land Forces to train complex tasks together at the small-unit level.

"Our goal in Bulgaria is to work with the host nation and show NATO that we stand as one," said 2nd Lt. Paul Hanneman, a Salem, Ore., native and platoon leader assigned to Attack Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade. "We believe that fighting, shooting and maneuvering alongside Bulgarian Land Forces really helps build our interoperability."

Such interoperability began with the Joint Forcible Entry parachute assault into Tenevo, Bulgaria during Exercise Swift Response. From there, squad and platoon specific training exercises would provide further opportunities for the paratroopers to integrate enablers and more lethal effects into the exercise.

In addition to their rifles and machine-guns, the paratroopers used wire-guided missiles, mortars, and artillery from the brigade's 4th Bn., 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regt., as well as rotary-wing aviation assets from 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade out of Hunter Army Airfield, Ga., and 12th Combat Aviation Brigade out of Katterbach, Germany.

"Our partners and allies have different techniques and procedures, so it is good for us to be familiar with them and understanding how to integrate one another's capabilities," said Hanneman. "Bringing a variety of assets together really helps develop a cohesive team and fighting unit."

For the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the first U.S. unit to deploy into the Baltic and Black Sea region to demonstrate solidarity with NATO allies following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, the exercise served as another opportunity for the Sky Soldiers to solidify and validate their role as not only the Army's only forward-stationed airborne brigade unit in Europe, but as the Army contingency response force in Europe.

"It is a lot easier for the 173rd to go anywhere in Europe, training and reinforcing the 'Strong Europe' concept," said Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Deen, a Waxhaw, N.C., native and platoon sergeant assigned to 1st Bn. "It sends a message that the United States, specifically the 173rd, is prepared to respond to any threat in this part of the world. That is our mission and we are prepared to answer that call."

Deen articulated the 173rd Airborne Brigade's role here in Europe, particularly if NATO's Article V, the clause which provides mutual defense, were invoked.

"The fact that the 173rd Airborne Brigade is here on Bulgarian soil training together is a show of force in itself, helping deterring aggression from any nation in the world," Deen concluded. "Through the relationships we have built over the years, its nice to know that if something does go happen we are well integrated and have created trust across the force."

Several U.S. Army units are currently deployed throughout Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, an ongoing, multinational partnership focused on joint training and security cooperation between the U.S. and other NATO allies.

Visit the Operation Atlantic Resolve website for up-to-date photos and information.