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Lt. Col. Thomas Matsel, commander of the 1st Battalion 94th Field Artillery Regiment, cases the unit's colors during a farewell ceremony. The 1-94th, based out of the Strassburg Kaserne near Baumholder, is taking part in a three-month training exercise in Romania.
Lt. Col. Thomas Matsel, commander of the 1st Battalion 94th Field Artillery Regiment, cases the unit's colors during a farewell ceremony. The 1-94th, based out of the Strassburg Kaserne near Baumholder, is taking part in a three-month training exercise in Romania. (John Vandiver / S&S)

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — For Pvt. Michael Schoonover, the excitement of his unit’s three-month deployment to Romania is offset by the unease of parting with his 5-year-old son.

But three months apart is certainly better than 15 months, Schoonover quickly added.

“It will be hard to be away from him,” he said. “But this is going to be a great experience.”

The 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment held a farewell ceremony Friday before departing for the training mission in Romania.

The battalion, based at Strassburg Kaserne near Baumholder, is part of Joint Task Force-East, which involves roughly 1,000 Americans drawn from the Army, Navy and Air Force. Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base will serve as the task force’s headquarters.

The 1-94th will be working closely with forces from Romania and Bulgaria.

Upon arrival in Romania, the 1-94th will be recast as Task Force Deep Steel for the duration of the exercise, according to Lt. Col. Thomas Matsel, the battalion’s commander. The battalion will be engaged in mobile infantry tasks with Bulgarian and Romanian forces.

“They’re going to be part of the battalion,” Matsel said.

When the 1-94th gets back to Germany in late October, it will be back to business as usual. The focus will shift from mobile exercises to the battalion’s native specialty — field artillery, Matsel said.

While the exercises will be a learning experience for soldiers, the deployment also is a chance to demonstrate the viability of Romania as a training hub, Matsel said. About 350 soldiers from the 1-94th will be participating.

For some families, there is a certain sense of relief about this deployment. While separation is always hard, three months is a lot more manageable than 12 or 15 months apart — the typical length of a combat tour, said spouse Nikkia Leflore.

“It’s just a blessing it’s not Iraq,” said Leflore, whose husband, Capt. Joel Leflore, is a 1-94th battery commander.

“I’ll miss him,” added daughter Joelencia, 11.

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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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