KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - The Romanian head of state paid homage Nov. 30 to his 1,650 military countrymen stationed in Afghanistan.

As part of the visit, President Traian Basescu met with more than 150 Romanian soldiers and later flew to a nearby camp to have lunch with International Security Assistance Forces.

"The troops are in good shape," he said. "The troops have good morale, and they are very determined to perform the mission."

After landing at Kandahar Airfield, the president met with Maj. Gen. James L. Terry, Regional Command South commander, for a briefing of NATO and ISAF operations in southern Afghanistan. The majority of the Romanian involvement in Afghanistan takes place at Forward Operating Base Apache, near Qalat in the Zabul province, so Basescu departed KAF to speak with his troops there.

After the helicopter touchdown at FOB Apache, hundreds of Romanian soldiers lined the streets to greet their nation's leader.

The FOB is home to about 800 Romanian soldiers and six Romanian units: two maneuver battalions and four operation mentoring and liaison teams. The 811th "Transylvanian Dragons" and 812th "Carpathian Hawks" Maneuver Battalions work with joint patrols in Zabul while the liaison teams train with the U.S. Army and Afghan National Army soldiers.

The main purpose of the president's visit was to see his military, said Romanian Maj. Florin Apafaian, Combined Team Zabul public information officer. It was to see how they are living, how they accomplish the mission and find out if there are any difficulties in cooperation between the U.S., Romanian and ISAF forces.

"I can tell you that from working here for six months, it makes no difference about the uniform," said Lt. Dragos Iacob, CTZ chief of staff. "We all do the same thing."

"When you have a patrol go out with three different uniforms - this is incredible," he said about the partnerships among the U.S., Romania and Afghan forces. "We work to help the Afghans and give them hope. And when you see that hope on the face of an Afghan child, this is something worth fighting for."

Aside from seeing the operations of the Romanian military, Basescu made time to ask the soldiers about their day-to-day life, to pose for a few photographs and to eat lunch with whoever could crowd into the FOB's small dining facility.

"It's an honor," said Romanian Sgt. 1st Class Adrian Puiu, 811th Maneuver Battalion. "For me, just a regular soldier, seeing the president is an honor."

"It was certainly an unexpected visit," said Romanian Capt. Nicolae Paraschiv, from a liaison team. "I didn't think I'd ever see the president here," he continued with a laugh, "and maybe not even in Romania."

Upon returning to KAF, Basescu spoke with 150 more Romanian soldiers, detailing some of the future plans for their force. Before the end of December, he said he hopes to reach a total of 1,800 troops in Afghanistan supporting the NATO mission.

NATO is an alliance that consists of 28 independent member countries. Romania joined in 2004 after an invitation at the Prague Summit in 2002. Since then, the nation has been a part of operations throughout the Middle East and southwest Asia.

Page last updated Wed December 1st, 2010 at 04:26