European edition, Wednesday, July 25, 2007

U.S. troops are beginning another mission in eastern Europe, and Europe-based units again are leading the way.

Just like when the first troops rolled into Bosnia, it’s advance teams from U.S. Army Europe that already have arrived in Romania for the beginning of Joint Task Force-East. They’re setting up operations at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, which will serve as the task force’s headquarters.

But unlike other operations in the Balkans, plans for what the Americans call “MK Air Base” won’t be as grandiose, said Maj. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander for the Southern European Task Force (Airborne). SETAF will oversee the task force.

The Romanian air base will never be as big as Camp Bondsteel, he said, referring to America’s main base in Kosovo, which housed up to 5,000 U.S. troops at its peak.

“It’s intended to be expeditionary in nature,” Helmick said. “You won’t see a bunch of Burger Kings or Starbucks.”

Initially, about 1,000 Americans will take part in a series of exercises and operations expected to last through October, Helmick said, with Navy Seabees joining soldiers from Italy and Germany, a few Air Force personnel and some civilians. Col. Peri Anest will be the JTF-East commander.

Helmick said only a small contingent will stay on after November and that future rotations — expected to be brigade-sized elements that spend about six months training at various sites in Romania and Bulgaria — might not be on the ground “for years,” although he did not elaborate.

This month, about 100 servicemembers from Vicenza are filling support roles, paving the way for the 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment from Baumholder, Germany, to actually test out the training grounds in joint exercises with Romanian and Bulgarian forces.

“This is how to build partnerships,” Helmick said. “You can’t do it from a desk. You have to live and train with the people you’re interested in working with.”

Helmick said the task force contains experts in a variety of fields.

For instance, Maj. Michael Ennabe, a member of the SETAF staff, brings more than 20 years’ experience in logistics. Ennabe said one of his tasks will be visits to local hospitals to see what types of services they could provide for future troop rotations.

“We want to take out the kinks, so it’s easier for [servicemembers] the next time,” he said.

The troops will be living in converted quarters that once housed troops in Bosnia.

Capt. Andrew Lotze, who works in the operations section at SETAF, said servicemembers know they’re supposed to be on their best behavior when they head outside the gates.

“They’ve warned us to be careful who we talk to and how we act,” he said. “We need to make good impressions.”

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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