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Tennessee Airman builds strong relationship with Bulgarian intel troops

U.S. Air National Guard Chief Master Sgt. James, a superintendent at the 118th Wing (center), met with his Bulgarian counterparts as part of the U.S. National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program in September 2018 in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria.

U.S. Air National Guard Chief Master Sgt. James, a superintendent at the 118th Wing (center), met with his Bulgarian counterparts as part of the U.S. National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program in September 2018 in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria. The program allows countries to collaborate in a variety of military areas for a mutually beneficial relationship. (Courtesy photo by U.S. Air National Guard Chief Master Sgt. James)

Nashville, Tennessee -- Chief Master Sgt. James, a superintendent at the 118th Wing in Nashville, Tennessee, participated in joint intelligence meetings with the Bulgarian military under the U.S. National Guard’s State Partnership Program in September 2018 in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria.

The Tennessee National Guard and the armed forces of Bulgaria have been partners under this program since 1993, which allows countries to collaborate in a variety of military areas for a mutually beneficial
relationship.

Providing an overview of the intelligence profession at a basic level, the Air Force chief and an Army warrant officer shared information on intelligence definitions, disciplines, and human intelligence with a group of 19 Bulgarian Army enlisted and officer troops.

Because of the language barrier and need to keep all discussions at the unclassified level, collaboration was challenging, said James, but with good translators the event went smoothly.

"This was mostly a relationship building exercise,” said James. “That helps us shape a partnership between the state of Tennessee and the Bulgarian military.”

A 37-year Air Force veteran, the chief served during the height of the Cold War, which gave him a unique take on his visit with the Bulgarian military. Taking place on a crumbling former Soviet-era base in central Bulgaria, the base still had Soviet signs posted throughout. During the meeting, James realized that some of the participants may had been adversaries in the 1980s.

"That was an incredible experience for me to be there and interact with them," said James. "Some of those guys were at one point our enemies."

One of the attendees was a member of a surface-to-air-missile battery that used a system called the SA-8 Gecko. James was familiar with the missile system having learned about it in intelligence school many years prior.

"We had a good friendly exchange about that [missile system],” said James. “And became immediate friends."

According to James, American troops and the Bulgarians have more in common than not.

"They have the same concerns we do," said James. "They're just normal people trying to make it through life, take care of themselves and their families."

With the program entering its 25th year, the chief hopes that the State Partnership Program continues to build strong relationships.

“I see benefit for us as well as for them in sharing information, perspectives, and culture,” said James. “It has been a very rewarding experience for me personally and for other team members who participated, and for the Bulgarian service men and women.”
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