Non-commissioned officers strengthen NATO backbone at joint-nation symposium

U.S. Air Forces in Europe Command Chief Master Sgt. David Williamson, (left) and Bulgarian air force Sgt. Maj. Rumen Petrov (center) listen to Bulgarian Chief of air forces Maj. Gen. Constantin Veselinov Popov during the first Bulgarian and U.S. non-commissioned officer symposium at the Bulgarian Land Forces headquarters here, April 10-11. More than 40 senior enlisted leaders met to discuss doctrine, strengths and leadership philosophies, which are designed to empower and inspire non-commissioned officers in both nations' corps. The first day of the joint-nation symposium included four discussions and a small-group breakout session.

SOFIA, Bulgaria - The first day is complete of a joint-nation non-commissioned officer symposium at the Bulgarian Land Forces headquarters here, April 10-11.

More than 40 American and Bulgarian senior enlisted members shared their doctrine, experiences and strengths during four discussions and a small-group breakout session.

Chief Master Sgt. David Williamson, U.S. Air Forces in Europe command chief, disclosed his views about the roles and values of the enlisted force.

The value comes from empowering and developing leaders at the lowest level, he said. There is a difference in accomplishing the intent of a mission or just completing a checklist of tasks. If a leader encounters an obstacle, he or she must use critical thinking skills and be confident enough to work around the obstacle, not flounder, and still complete the mission.

Williamson also advocated the importance of establishing a common ground between partners. Each nation should have a general idea of the responsibilities and capabilities of each others' non-commissioned officer backbone. The first time to get to know someone should not be out in the field or during global contingency efforts.

"One of the key points is knowing that when we do work together, we have to be interoperable," he said. "That interoperability doesn't just come from weapon systems working together; it has a personal face, and that face is the NCO corps that make the mission happen every day.

"When a group of nations get together to accomplish something on a grand scale, that shares a bigger statement to the world," he added. "We understand each nation brings a unique capability to the table — that's all part of strengthening the team."

James B. Warlick Jr., U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria, said he hopes this symposium will evolve into something that continues in the future to encourage professional development and growth between the two NATO partners. Devoting resources into creating more training opportunities such as this symposium is one of his priorities.

This is a testament to the commitment and professionalism of the U.S. and Bulgarian non-commissioned officer corps, he said.

"I was excited to come here," said Bulgarian navy Master Chief Petty Officer Georgi Nikolov, Navy Command in Varna, Bulgaria. "It's a good chance to meet each other and share our teachings. We want to take the knowledge from our U.S. colleagues and share what we've learned with our junior NCOs.

"There were a lot of people here, which is a good thing," he continued. "A lot of people means a lot of different ideas and approaches."

Bulgarian navy Vice Adm. Plamen Manushev, deputy chief of defense, expressed his wishes for a successful symposium during the opening remarks.

"We'll continue to develop the ability for the NCOs to function in traditional and growing roles in a multinational environment," he said. "The purpose of this symposium is to exchange knowledge to prepare our military forces for future conflicts or even homestation readiness.

"I've never been witness to such an event," he said about the opportunity for joint NCO advancement. "I've never had the privilege to speak in front of so many enlisted leaders. Use this opportunity to enhance your knowledge about the role of the NCO in armed forces."

The symposium continues April 11 with discussions planned for motivating and leading subordinates, and an overview of U.S. European Command's strategy for active security.

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