Brig. Gen. Nicholas Matern, deputy commanding general (Coalition), Multi-National Corps - Iraq, visited the 5th Bulgarian Contingent at Forward Operating Base Grizzly, Ashraf, Iraq, April 21.
"This visit gives us exposure to the very important mission they're accomplishing in Iraq," Matern said.
The 5th Contingent's current mission is to provide security for the Ashraf Refugee Camp, said Col. Michael Temme, C3, coalition liaison officer, MNC-I. The mission is a bizarre one, Temme explained, because the people the Bulgarian forces are protecting once belonged to a terrorist organization.
The People's Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK, are a group of Iranians who are fighting the Iranian government to regain control of their home country. The refugees in Ashraf are defectors from this group and considered protected people under the Geneva Convention. The refuge is a United Nations sponsored mission, Temme said.
While this mission is very important, MNC-I is also interested in the role of the next wave of Bulgarian forces in Iraq. "I visited the Bulgarian contingent to get a sense of what might happen to them in the future because their current task in Ashraf is coming to a close," Matern said. The future mission is currently being decided by the Bulgarian parliament.
The Bulgarian forces share FOB Grizzly with the Soldiers of the 504th Military Police Battalion. The Bulgarian focus on the refugee mission allows coalition forces to focus on other issues. "They're another coalition partner helping to allow U.S. Soldiers and coalition forces to focus on other things," Matern said. "It's been a very good collaboration with the U.S. forces."
At FOB Grizzly, the Bulgarian forces provide their own communication support, morale facilities and even built their own chapel.
"The DCG takes a personal interest to visit these units," Temme said. "It lets them know they're important and they're not left wondering, 'why am I here.'"
This is the third mission for Bulgarian forces in Iraq. They've also served in Karbala and Diwaniyah. They've completed 175 projects in Iraq worth more than $5 million. Bulgarian instructors have spent more than 500 hours training Iraqi personnel. They've also conducted more than 500 patrols and 227 security escorts in country. Bulgarian forces have lost 13 soldiers in Iraq.