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Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, arrive at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania on Feb. 2, 2014. The soldiers were the first wave of passengers to transit through MK Air Base en route to a mission in Southwest Asia.

Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, arrive at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania on Feb. 2, 2014. The soldiers were the first wave of passengers to transit through MK Air Base en route to a mission in Southwest Asia. (Michael A. Currin/U.S. Army)

Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, arrive at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania on Feb. 2, 2014. The soldiers were the first wave of passengers to transit through MK Air Base en route to a mission in Southwest Asia.

Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, arrive at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania on Feb. 2, 2014. The soldiers were the first wave of passengers to transit through MK Air Base en route to a mission in Southwest Asia. (Michael A. Currin/U.S. Army)

Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division prepare to check in at the newly constructed passenger holding area at  Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania on Feb. 2, 2014.

Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division prepare to check in at the newly constructed passenger holding area at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania on Feb. 2, 2014. (Michael A. Currin/U.S. Army)

Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, get off a bus and walk toward a C-17 transport plane at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania on  Feb. 3, 2014. The soldiers represented the first wave of passengers to transit through the base en route to a mission in Southwest Asia.

Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, get off a bus and walk toward a C-17 transport plane at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania on Feb. 3, 2014. The soldiers represented the first wave of passengers to transit through the base en route to a mission in Southwest Asia. (Warren W. Wright Jr./U.S. Army)

Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, walk toward a C-17 transport plane on Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania on Feb. 3, 2014. The soldiers were departing for a deployment in Afghanistan.

Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, walk toward a C-17 transport plane on Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania on Feb. 3, 2014. The soldiers were departing for a deployment in Afghanistan. (Warren W. Wright Jr./U.S. Army)

A C-17 transport plane, operated by the 780th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, takes off from Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania en route to Afghanistan on  Feb. 3, 2014. The massive cargo plane carried soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, the first to transit through the base to an operating area in Southwest Asia.

A C-17 transport plane, operated by the 780th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, takes off from Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania en route to Afghanistan on Feb. 3, 2014. The massive cargo plane carried soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, the first to transit through the base to an operating area in Southwest Asia. (Warren W. Wright Jr./U.S. Army)

Afghanistan-bound U.S. troops departed from the military’s new transit hub in Romania this week, marking a first for the new facility, which will play a key role as the United States draws down in Afghanistan in the year ahead.

On Monday, about 300 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division took off for a nine-month rotation from Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, which the military refers to as the MK Passenger Transit Center.

The center was established as a replacement for the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan, which is slated to close in July.

The new MK Passenger Transit Center was built by soldiers from the 902nd Engineer Company (Vertical), which operates under the umbrella of the Germany-based 21st Theater Sustainment Command.

In June, the Kyrgyz parliament voted not to extend the U.S. military’s lease at Manas, which has served as a main transit point for troops moving into and out of Afghanistan over the years.

In October, the U.S. Defense Department announced it would shift the mission of transiting troops and cargo to a facility in Romania.

The MK Transit Center provides “essential logistical, transportation, reintegration and morale and welfare services,” according to the 21st TSC.

“This is one of several transportation hubs that will ensure our war fighters get into and out of theater quickly, safely and efficiently, ready to execute missions or reintegrate into their Families, units and communities as the case may be,” said Lt. Col. Wayne Marotto, spokesman for the 21st TSC, in a news release.

The base, near Romania’s Black Sea port town of Constanta, can accommodate about 2,000 transiting personnel at a time and maintains a contingent of roughly 350 servicemembers and civilians to operate the transit center.

So far, some troops appear to prefer the facility in Romania to the transit center it will replace in Kyrgyzstan, according to the 21st TSC release.

“Our stay here has been a lot better than at Manas,” Spc. Stephen Mayville, a transiting soldier from Grass Lake, Mich., was quoted as saying. “The facilities are awesome; they actually have buildings instead of tents.”

vandiver.john@stripes.com

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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