US Tanks Flown across Europe for Training

An M1A2 Abrams tank unloads from a C-17, Burgas, Bulgaria, June 20, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jacqueline Dowland)
An M1A2 Abrams tank unloads from a C-17, Burgas, Bulgaria, June 20, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jacqueline Dowland)

NOVO SELO TRAINING AREA, Bulgaria -- M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tanks were flown, via a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to Burgas, Bulgaria, where they were transported to Novo Selo Training Area, Bulgaria, June 20 - 22. 

This is the first time heavy-armor equipment has been flown by the U.S. Air Force in Europe since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. The tanks will be used to conduct training at the Novo Selo Training Area, Bulgaria.

Soldiers, from 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, will train with soldiers from the Bulgarian 6th Brigade Battle Group during Operation Speed and Power. The exercise is designed to demonstrate interoperability between allied nations and NATO readiness. 

Moving tanks across international borders can be challenging, but a team from the U.S. Army, Bulgarian Land Forces and the Bulgarian government worked together to ensure the mission was a success. 

First Lt. William P. Vanlonkhuyzen, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, or 2/2 CR, physician assistant and a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan, although not an engineer, grew up around a ground shipping company, which his father owned in Michigan until he was 23. Despite being in the medical field now, Vanlonkhyzen enjoyed being able to roll up his sleeves and join the engineers as a subject matter expert, contributing his knowledge to the team.

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"Given 2/2 CR's limited presence here staff-wise, everyone took up their parts contributing their knowledge and backgrounds," Vanlonkhuyzen said. "Even now, being a medical officer, I enjoy being able to contribute to the team in a logistical sense, as well."

As the team united to identify the route that would be taken during the transport of the tanks, unforeseen issues arose, challenging the team to analyze in ways that could make or break the movement.

"As we started to expand our joint training from Estonia all the way down to Bulgaria, we discovered that the main bridge between Novo Selo Training Area and the railhead, the Marash River Bridge, had unforeseen challenges to overcome," said Col. Laura C. Loftus, U.S. Army Europe engineer, and a native of Enterprise, Alabama. 

Not all nations have tanks as heavy as the 71-ton M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank. Because of this, planning had to be done for safe movement on Bulgarian roads and bridges. 

After the team studied the structure of the bridge and the dimensions and weight of the tank, they agreed that the bridge could withstand the impact of having the tank cross it. 

"Based on the weight of the load on the head, we are confident that we can safely cross the bridge using those procedures, Loftus said.

The movement of tanks to the Novo Selo Training Area demonstrates the effectiveness of partnership and the strength of NATO. 

"It proves that the U.S. Army can travel anywhere in the world to support our NATO allies," Vanlonkhuyzen said.

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