Leader Blues

Saturday, October 03, 2009

TOP STORY >> Military exercise in eastern Europe also has a humanitarian mission

By SGT. JESSICA SWITZER
Joint Hometown News Service

MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIR BASE, Romania — Nearly 40 years ago, murals depicting the glory of the Soviet military were freshly painted at the Novo Selo training area in Bulgaria.

Today, nearly 20 years after the end of the Cold War, they are flaking, subdued images of a bygone era.

Now, artificial thunder echoes through the hills as a Bulgarian M1117 Guardian armored security vehicle runs a training course, mowing down targets with fire from its mounted heavy machine gun.

Army Spec. Thomas M. Anderson, son of Oswald Anderson of Austin, is faced with these reminders of the Cold War and the difficulties of conducting Army business in a foreign nation, as a member of Joint Task Force-East, a multi-national task force designed to make stronger allies of Romania and Bulgaria.

The operation hones the skills of soldiers from all three nations as well as helping the people living in some of the poorest areas of the two European countries.

Anderson is a generator technician with the 240th Quartermaster Supply Company in Bamberg, Germany, and is deployed to Romania to support the task force, based at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania.

“I’m part of the team that makes sure the people out there training in the field have the power they need,” said Anderson, who graduated from Hot Springs High School in 2000. “Specifically, I take care of the generators they use to power their equipment.”

Soldiers from all three countries trained together in individual and company-level movements as well as with armored vehicles, a variety of weapons and combat lifesaving skills.

They also practiced the coordination needed to go into and clear a hostile urban area.

In addition to the training, the soldiers took time to visit a number of local villages and allowed children to explore the vehicles they were using.

“One of the biggest difficulties I had working with the Romanians was the language barrier,” said Anderson. “Other than that though, members of both countries are very similar.”

Military training wasn’t the only reason U.S. service members were in Romania and Bulgaria. A group of doctors and nurses traveled to several villages around the training bases in both countries.

The team worked with local health-care workers and translators to provide screenings for optical and other general health concerns.

There was also a team of Navy Seabees helping renovate and upgrade local schools and medical facilities.

In spite of the language barrier and cultural differences, the U.S. soldiers and their Bulgarian or Romanian counterparts were usually able to get their messages across.

“When I started working with my Romanian counterparts, none of them could read a schematic or wiring diagram,” said Anderson, who has been in the Army for more than four years and has served in Iraq. “Now they’re reading them just as well as I do.”

Whether building new schools, bringing medical services to villages or practicing the art of war, Romanian, Bulgarian and U.S. service members, like Anderson, are working to keep the positive relationships going long after everyone has gone home.

The relationships built on this training ground will go a long way toward making sure the three nations can work together seamlessly.