NOVO SELO TRAINING AREA, Bulgaria (Sept. 14, 2015) -- Soldiers, assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, 85th Civil Affairs Brigade, and the Bulgarian Civil-Military Cooperation Team came together to help lay a new pathway for a Bulgarian school.

The renovation to Mokren Elementary School's walkway not only helps enhance the perception of U.S. forces, but also the United States' commitment to Bulgaria and its communities.

"Bulgarians are used to the presence of the U.S. Army here," said Manol Hristov, mayor of Mokren, Bulgaria. "So for them to be able to come out and complete this project further solidifies our relationship."

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Cotton, assigned to 80th Civil Affairs Battalion, 85th Civil Affairs Brigade, out of Fort Bliss, Texas, said that going to another country to train with NATO partners is one thing, but being able to get out and show the host nation both sides of that relationships is another.

"All locals may really know about the U.S. military is that they come here and train, however they may not know what we are training for," said Cotton, a Valparaiso, Indiana, native. "Being here shows that we are here to help wherever we can, giving them a better perception of U.S. and NATO forces."

The Bulgarian military's interaction and participation with the U.S. Army, particularly those from the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade out of Vicenza, Italy, who have been training here for over two weeks, helps with this perception.

"Helping out in this type of outreach project means a lot to the local populace," said Spc. Ryan Goldy, a St. Charles County, Missouri, native and U.S. Army paratrooper assigned to the 1st Battalion. "We already have so much, so to go out and help somebody is a great feeling."

The Sky Soldiers, from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, were the first to deploy into the Baltic and Black Sea region to demonstrate solidarity with NATO allies following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The paratroopers conducted simultaneous airborne operations into nearby Tenevo Airfield and Balchik Airfield, along the Black Sea, along with Italian and Bulgarian paratroopers as part of Exercise Swift Response. The exercises involved more than 4,500 paratroopers from 11 NATO nations, spread across Bulgaria, Germany, Italy and Romania.

The paratroopers, from 1st Battalion, are completing platoon and company live fires with Bulgarian allies here.

The community outreach served as another opportunity for the Sky Soldiers to solidify and validate their role as not only Europe's only forward-stationed airborne brigade and Army contingency response force, but as credible NATO partner.

"Personally, it means a lot," Hristov said. "We are NATO allies and keeping up the relationship that we have established is very helpful. I'm very grateful to have such a relationship with the U.S. military."

The 173rd Airborne Brigade and 85th Civil Affairs Brigade are deployed to Bulgaria in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, an ongoing, multinational partnership focused on joint training and security cooperation between the United States and other NATO allies.