By Troy Darr Public Affairs Officer
Joint Task Force-East
NOVO SELO, Bulgaria — U.S. and Bulgarian military personnel joined together for two symbolic ceremonies Sept. 27 and 28 as exercise Lion Strike came to an end.
First, Joint Task Force-East celebrated the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a humanitarian project at a kindergarten in Mokren, Bulgaria. Eleven U.S. Navy personnel from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 40, otherwise known as SeaBees, finished an extensive renovation of the school during the exercise.
The children from the school, along with parents, teachers, school director, local officials and U.S. and Bulgarian military personnel, crowded the small courtyard during the ceremony.
"We say in the United States that the children are our future," said Army Lt. Col. Bruce Sones, commanding officer for JTF-E "Lion Strike".
"We hope through the efforts of those involved in this project that the improved environment created for teaching the children will contribute to the children's development as they grow and become leaders in your society."
The school director, Margarita Nicolova, thanked the SeaBees and then presented them with a picture painted by the children, a CD of Bulgarian folk music, a photo of the children and a glass vial filled with Bulgarian soil.
Of the soil, she said, "Wherever you go, you know you'll have a piece of Bulgaria with you."
The school children then sang several songs for the audience and the ribbon was cut. But, there was another surprise for the children, a HMMWV full of gifts. All of the soldiers, sailors and airmen participating in the exercise had contributed money to buy much-needed school supplies and educational toys for the school.
"We will maintain what you have done, and promise to continue with improvements," said Emil Enchev, mayor of Mokren. "Hopefully we will continue working together in the future."
The next day, all JTF-E "Lion Strike" participants, both U.S. and Bulgarian, came together again, this time to commemorate the end of the exercise during the closing ceremony.
During the ceremony Sones and Col. Biser Kalinov, chief of Training, Bulgarian Land Forces, presented certificates of achievement to 14 U.S. Soldiers and 16 Bulgarian soldiers for their efforts during the exercise.
"During this training, we had the opportunity to gain military experience from the leading force in NATO - the United States Military, and to show that while representing a small army, the Bulgarian officers, Non-commissioned officers and soldiers are honorable partners and excellent professionals," said Kalinov, who spoke first during the ceremony.
He was followed by Sones, who echoed Kalinov's feelings.
"This closing ceremony does not mark the end of a training opportunity or a farewell to relationships fostered," said Sones.
"In our minds, it marks the hopeful commencement of future training opportunities to be conducted between our nations."
"We can truly say the professionalism and generosity of the Bulgarian Land Forces is unrivaled," he continued.
"We know the strong relationship between the United States and Bulgaria, as demonstrated during this exercise, will continue to grow, and we look forward to training and serving with you in the years to come."
Picture added on 31 May 2011 at 20:02