News: Tennessee National Guard Soldiers serve their Annual Training in Romania, Bulgaria
Story by Sgt. Marla Keown
MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIR FIELD, Romania — Approximately 350 Tennessee Army National Guard service members from units across the state completed three weeks of training in Eastern Europe. The service members participated in the third annual Joint Task Force-East rotation, a military exercise with the Romanian and Bulgarian Land Forces Aug. 5 - 20.
The 176th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion headquartered in Johnson City, Tenn., and their supporting elements arrived in Romania Aug. 5. The 1st Battalion, 181st Field Artillery Regiment, headquartered out of Chattanooga, Tenn., and various elements arrived in Bulgaria to conduct training with their host-nation counterparts, Aug. 6.
The three-week exercise fulfilled the annual training requirement for National Guard Soldiers. Traditionally, most Army National Guard personnel serve "one weekend a month, two weeks a year" and use this time to train on basic soldier and job skills.
While at the Babadag Training Area, an open maneuver area with rolling hills in eastern Romania, the citizen Soldiers conducted basic infantry refresher training and completed at least one major task every day. They practiced dismounted infantry tactics, moving in squad formations, reaction to contact drills and fired a variety of weapons.
In Bulgaria, Tennessee Army National Guard and Bulgarian Land Forces service members trained side-by-side at the Novo Selo Training Area. They became familiar with each other's weapons, practiced medical evacuation procedures and conducted military operations in urban terrain.
The commander of the 730th Quartermaster Company, U.S. Army Capt. Joe G. Smith, taught a Rocket Propelled Grenade Launcher class to ensure every Soldier in the group knew how to handle, aim and fire an RPG. Smith was the range safety officer for Soldiers conducting live fire training to ensure each RPG was handled safely.
"The RPG range was the culminating event of the training," said Smith. "I tried to save the best for last." RPGs are a common weapon used by enemy forces fighting against U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's good to keep Soldiers familiar and proficient with enemy weapons, said Smith. It is an additional way to prepare our Soldiers for the battlefield, he added.
The Romanian and Bulgarian Land Forces have been supporting U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2006. The JTF-East exercise offers different countries to train side-by-side so that servicemembers may learn to overcome language barriers and other obstacles they may face in a combat zone.
The state of Tennessee and the Eastern European country of Bulgaria have been working together in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's State Partnership for Peace Program since 1993. The program promotes stability in Eastern European countries and creates trust between NATO and other states in Europe. Although Tennessee and Bulgaria might seem like an unlikely match, they were paired because they share similar geographical and cultural features.
Bulgaria is slightly larger than the state of Tennessee and the two NATO partners have a variety of similar topographical features. Both lands are divided into plains, plateaus, hills, mountains and sharp valleys according to www.travel.nationalgeographic.com.
"We have done Soldier exchange programs with Bulgaria for several years," said Col. W.M. Hart, the 230th Sustainment Brigade Commander headquartered in Chattanooga, Tenn. "The ability to come to Romania and work with the Romanian Land Forces was just another opportunity for our Soldiers to better understand other NATO nations' ways of conducting operations."
The purpose of JTF-East is to build interoperability capabilities, develop relationships with other militaries, and to promote regional security cooperation. More than 3,800 Romanian, Bulgarian, U.S. troops and civilians are participating in this year's three-month exercise.
The integration of Romanian, Bulgarian and U.S. service members materialized daily through cultural interaction and side-by-side training. "I really enjoyed working with the Romanians and learning their tactics and techniques in the field," said Staff Sgt. James R. White, 730th Quartermaster Company Platoon Sergeant.
The citizen Soldiers from the "Volunteer" state participating in this year's JTF-East interacted with the Romanian and Bulgarian Land Forces service members outside of scheduled training as well. Most participated in Morale, Welfare and Recreation site-seeing excursions in the surrounding area. Soldiers in Romania traveled to nearby Mamaia Beach and visited the famous Bran Castle, also known as Dracula's Castle, located near Brasov, one of the largest cities in central Romania.
"Volunteer" state Soldiers in Bulgaria traveled to the shores of the Black Sea and ancient seaside resorts where they were able to visit museums and historical sites. Sporting events and language classes were available during the deployment to promote cultural and social interaction.
"By the time we left BTA, the Romanian and American soldiers looked like a unified formation of troops," said Smith. It was a complete integration of personnel, skills and resources, he added.
The unit hosted a culminating barbecue at the picnic grounds of the Mihail Kogalniceanu Airfield base camp, Aug. 19. We got together to celebrate the end of our Romanian experience, said Spc. Lee T. Williams, Johnson County, Tenn., 730th Quartermaster Company Supply Specialist. Service members enjoyed their last afternoon in Romania with games such as horseshoes, tug of war, badminton and softball.
JTF-East Commander Col. Gary R. Russ joined the celebration and thanked the entire unit for their professionalism and participation. He handed out a few JTF-East unit coins to select Soldiers to recognize their hard work. Distributing unit coins is a military tradition and usually presented to Soldiers who demonstrate outstanding performance.
Spc. Ervin Swopes, Pfc. Joseph W. Davis and Sgt. Scott E. Hopkins received JTF-East unit coins for their superior performance during this deployment.
JTF-East continues to be one of the U.S. Army Europe's strategic priorities and it plays a key role in the U.S. European Command's Regional Security Cooperation program.
This work, Tennessee National Guard Soldiers serve their Annual Training in Romania, Bulgaria, by SGT Marla Keown, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.