European edition, Sunday, July 8, 2007

Soldiers from Baumholder, Germany, and Vicenza, Italy, will start deploying this month to Romania as part of the first rotation under Joint Task Force-East.

About 1,000 soldiers and civilians will participate in the two-month exercise that is serving as a trial run for future, larger deployments to Romania and Bulgaria. The exercise will be based at Forward Operating Site Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Constanta.

The Baumholder-based 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery will join Romanian and Bulgarian troops for the exercises, according to Thomas Saunders, a spokesman for U.S. Army Europe in Heidelberg, Germany.

The first support troops and civilians for the exercise are scheduled to start arriving in Romania in late July. The exercise is slated to run Aug. 17 to Oct. 22.

Since the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s and early 1990s, U.S. forces have traveled on occasion to Romania and Bulgaria to train with their militaries. But this would be the first large-scale deployment under a 10-year agreement with Romania, signed in December 2005, that allows U.S. troops to continually rotate into and out of the country for training.

The United States and Bulgaria signed a similar 10-year agreement in April 2006.

The headquarters staff would include soldiers from USAREUR headquarters and the Wiesbaden-based 1st Armored Division, including the 1-94, as well as from the Vicenza-based Southern European Task Force, Saunders said.

Navy Seabees, U.S. airmen and Romanian and Bulgarian troops will also work at the task force headquarters, known as JTF-East.

During the upcoming deployment, troops are expected to train in individual small-arms fire, crew-served weapons, live-fire exercise, situational training and soldier skills with Romanian and Bulgarian counterparts, Saunders said.

Romania and Bulgaria are next to each other on the Black Sea. Together, they have at least seven installations that the U.S. military can use. Most of them, including the Babadag Training Area in Romania and Novo Selo Training Area in Bulgaria, are clustered within about 200 miles in southeastern Romania and northeastern Bulgaria.

When JTF-East gets up to full operation, a full brigade of 3,000 to 4,000 U.S. troops will rotate into the training sites for six-month tours. Some of the brigade’s companies and battalions would deploy to Romania, while others would train in Bulgaria.

When one brigade finishes its six-month training, another would replace it.

It is also possible that troops from others nations would go to the sites to train, and that U.S. forces based there would, as part of their six-month tour, travel to nearby nations such as Georgia and Ukraine for shorter training missions.

As part of the agreements, the United States is allowed to use the installations to refuel airplanes, preposition materiel and, if necessary, launch military operations.

The Black Sea is an important shipping thoroughfare that is also bounded by Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and Turkey. It is connected to the Mediterranean by a series of straits and small seas.

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