NOVO SELO TRAINING AREA, Bulgaria — Joint Task Force-East wrapped up another successful combined training rotation during a closing ceremony here, Oct. 22. A week prior, Oct. 14, was the closing ceremony in Romania.
Service members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Romanian and Bulgarian land forces took part in this year's concurrent exercises. JTF-E is an element of the U.S. European Command's Theater Security Engagement Program that provides training for Romanians, Bulgarians and Americans to help build interoperability and foster professional partnerships.
The men and women, dressed in their combat uniforms, were standing at attention in a formation saluting the national flags for the last time. They were preparing to return to their home bases after completing their last exercise, Oct. 20.
They were the last of four rotational units to cycle through the various training activities facilitated by the task force.
Units came from the U.S. and Germany to complete three main objectives for the combined training; combat, construction and medical assistance.
First, two U.S. Army Tennessee National Guard units flew to the Balkans to conduct their annual training with elements of the Romanian and Bulgarian land forces. In Romania, the 176th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion headquartered out of Johnson City, Tenn., participated in combined exercises at the Babadag Training Area. Here in Bulgaria, Guardsmen of the 1-181st Field Artillery Battalion out of Chattanooga, Tenn., completed their training alongside their host nation counterparts.
A month later, the Guard units were followed by two squadrons of the U.S. Army Europe's 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment based in Vilseck, Germany. Romania received the 4th Squadron and Bulgaria took the 2nd Squadron.
The participating units trained side by side during the three month exercise. Training included, but was not limited to squad attacks, room clearing and downed aircraft recovery training.
U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Michael McCoy, tactical intelligence officer of the 2nd SCR, said, "The training is relevant to the current focus. It matches actual incidents in Afghanistan and Iraq."
"This exercise has been very fruitful for all the guys in our company because the terrain here resembles the one in Afghanistan best," said Bulgarian Land Forces 1st Lt. Todor Kirov, deputy company commander of the 61st Mechanized Brigade. "We have real life experiences to what we can expect in Afghanistan."
Throughout the exercise, U.S. troops learned to fire their counterpart's rocket propelled grenade launchers and, in return, the hosts were trained on M-16 assault rifles.
In a smaller capacity, medics of the U.S. Army's 212th Combat Support Hospital based in Bruchmuehlbach-Miesau, Germany, conducted Combat Lifesaver training for host nation medical corpsmen; it has proved to save lives in a combat environment.
And then, there were humanitarian civic assistance projects carried out in the vicinity of the training areas. The mission: to train on military occupational skills while in a real world environment. That is what U.S., Romanian and Bulgarian construction and medical teams executed in both countries.
In reconstruction, the U.S. Navy Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3 based in Port Hueneme, Calif., and NMCB 11 out of Gulfport, Miss.; Army 902nd Engineer Vertical Company engineers from Schweinfurt, Germany; and Romanian and Bulgarian troops aesthetically renovated kindergartens, schools, health and community centers as combined teams.
"It was great to see the finished product and who it was for," said U.S. Navy Construction Electrician Chief Corey A. Stevens, a native of St. Louis and officer in charge of NMCB 3.
"The thing that topped it off was when we saw the children, the families, the parents and everybody out there showing support and appreciation not only for what we've done for the community, but just the fact that we knew that it meant something," he said.
To date, since the start of renovation missions in Romania and Bulgaria, the construction teams completed 36 projects. The overall cost was about $185,000 for the work done by the Seabees, engineers and contractors.
With the medical assistance mission, teams consisting of U.S.-Bulgarian and U.S.-Romanian military medics, in the respective host nation, provided services in optometry and public health including: screening exams and classes in oral hygiene, prevention of heart disease, and women and children's health education. The duration of each site visit was between 2-3 days.
"I feel I am helping people who need medical assistance," said Bulgarian Land Forces Capt. Nikolai Kovachev, a general practitioner of the Preventive Medicine Military Medical HospitallSofia.
"When I am consulting and taking care of those patients, I see they are grateful for the things I am doing for them. This brings the satisfaction of a job well done," said Kovachev.
He added, "The feeling to work together with U.S. Army military is very pleasant. They are friendly and open to us. The work we are doing here is different in a way that it is dynamic and interesting."
More than 3,700 people were seen and approximately 4,200 prescription eyeglasses were distributed in eight villages in Romania and 10 in Bulgaria. Common concerns of patients were their vision, blood pressure and general health issues.
In Romania, $18,000 worth of pharmaceuticals was locally purchased through the U.S. humanitarian civic assistance program. These products were distributed through community medical officials to specifically target the main heath concerns identified by the medical teams.
Medical missions in both Romania and Bulgaria totaled nearly $50,000.
Nearly 600 members of the Romanian Land Forces, 500 Bulgarian Land Forces, and more than 1,500 U.S. service members participated in this year's combined training.
Jobs created for local nationals through awarded contracts and the money spent in the host nations by the U.S. presence has the potential for a positive impact.
Year after year, Joint Task Force-East has facilitated the combined training for Romanian, Bulgarian and U.S. forces. It is a continuing effort by the United States and its NATO partners in the region to further develop military relationships that are vital to coalition success in contingency operations.