By Sgt. Joel Vazquez, 173 ABCTMarch 15, 2013
STARA ZAGORA, Bulgaria- Few can say they travel the world, engage in new cultural ways of life and leave their mark on those they have visited, but for three Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, it's all in a day's work.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Edwin Maldonado, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charles Drafall and Capt. Aaron Becker hit that mark when they had the opportunity to travel to Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, to mentor and instruct the 2nd Mechanized Brigade of the Bulgarian Army.
Their mission was to instruct soldiers of the 2nd Mechanized Brigade in preparation for their upcoming rotation at the Joint Multinational Training Center at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, and their deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan, later this year. The military-to-military training they provided covered troop-leading procedures, the military decision making process, known as MDMP, and intelligence preparation for the battlefield.
"The most surprising part in all of this was who the Bulgarian army sent to train," said Maldonado.
The three-man training team expected to work with no more than 15 junior noncommissioned officers or junior officers, but were instead greeted on arrival by 31 high-ranking Bulgarian soldiers, all with decades of experience.
Maldonado said he has worked with the Bulgarian Army in the past, conducting training and deploying in Afghanistan with their units, and was honored to have the opportunity to work with them again.
Drafall may not have worked with the Bulgarians in the past, but he is no stranger to the type of environments that military-to-military training teams can be sent. Much like Maldonado, he has conducted numerous training programs for soldiers in allied countries around the world and was excited to add Bulgaria to the list.
"Conducting training like this is the best kind of training to be involved with," Drafall said. "It is much more than just business. From the second we arrived they welcomed us with open arms, they even had an opening ceremony upon our arrival to the installation."
The mil-to-mil mission was a mixture of business and pleasure for the 173rd Soldiers. When the training day was done, they were entertained and enlightened each day with a history lesson highlighting the historical accomplishments of the Bulgarian Army over the centuries.
"To hear about their battles every day, to see how they operated in the past in comparison to now was very interesting," Drafall said. "We had the chance to hear and see how the Bulgarian Army evolved into the military fighting force they are today, so in a way, we learned how they operate as well."
Although they were there for only four days, Maldonado and Drafall were confident in the job they had done as instructors because it is always easy to teach students when they are willing to learn, they said. After this experience they hope the 173rd ABCT and the U.S. Army continue to train other allied nations and they're looking forward to mentoring and instructing again in the near future, they said.
"We may come from two different worlds, and not speak the same language, ours being English and theirs being Bulgarian, but that didn't matter," said Maldonado. "Professional soldiers have a way of understanding one another. Military bearing and professionalism speak volumes even when words are not used, and these were some of the most professional soldiers I have ever had the opportunity to work with."