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NEWS | Nov. 12, 2021

Thriving: Tennessee, Bulgaria partnership nears 30th anniversary

By Army Master Sgt. Jim Greenhill, National Guard Bureau

SOFIA, Bulgaria – Common values, shared purpose and a commitment to peace and security have guided a 28-year partnership between the Tennessee National Guard and Bulgaria.

One of the original 13 pairings in the Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program, Tennessee and Bulgaria joined forces in 1993 in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet bloc. The SPP has since grown to 85 partnerships with 92 foreign countries.

In the almost three decades since, Bulgaria has joined both NATO (in 2004) and the European Union (in 2007). Bulgarian defense officials have credited the SPP with helping Bulgaria achieve compatibility with its NATO counterparts.

“Only together can we rise to the challenges we face in an increasingly complex international security environment,” Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson said during a visit to Bulgaria this week. “And investing in our mutual defense in order to deter aggression will always be less costly than going to war.”

The relationship is so strong that Bulgarian troops have deployed to combat operations with Tennessee Guardsmen – four times.

“The United States is proud to be a strategic partner with Bulgaria, a key NATO ally and contributor to collective security,” said Hokanson, who is the chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

Tennessee and Bulgaria have conducted more than 550 engagements since the partnership began. Knowledge-sharing and joint training has included cyber defense, noncommissioned officer development, combat interoperability, base defense and combat medical skills.

The partners also have taken part in numerous European Command exercises and training.

American and Bulgarian forces conduct joint training at the Southeastern European nation’s Novo Selo Training Area and other facilities.

One of Bulgaria’s top defense priorities is modernization, which is also one of Hokanson’s four top priorities for the National Guard. The other three: People, readiness and reform.

“It’s very useful to discuss shared challenges such as modernizing our respective forces,” Hokanson said after meetings with Bulgaria’s senior defense leaders.

Bulgaria recently bought eight F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft as part of its modernization, with plans to buy another eight to establish a full squadron.

Other topics discussed during Hokanson’s visit included recruiting, pilot retention, employer support of reservists, future training opportunities, and defense support to civil authorities. 

“We are absolutely committed to further strengthening this partnership,” Hokanson said. “Through Tennessee, Bulgaria has access to all the expertise and capabilities of the 445,000-strong National Guard.”

The partnership is conducted in coordination with the geographic combatant command’s objectives and State Department priorities.

Next up: 24 Tennessee Guard commanders will engage with their Bulgarian counterparts across the country later this month as part of an initiative aligning Tennessee units with Bulgarian military formations. 

The SPP pairs the National Guard in the states, territories and District of Columbia with America’s security partners and allies, forging and sustaining enduring partnerships that result in military-to-military, military-to-civilian and civilian-to-civilian cooperation. The SPP helps America meet its national security objectives through enduring relationships with our partners and allies.