MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIR BASE, Romania - Elements of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command's 16th Sustainment Brigade along with several other organizations are ensuring operations at the newly activated Passenger Transit Center at MK Air Base run smoothly and as expected.
Operationally known as Sustainment Task Force 16, the soldiers of the 16th Sust. Bde. and their partner organizations are ensuring passengers, soon to be transiting through MK, have everything they need to move on to their next location, be it in Europe, Afghanistan or the continental United States. Additionally, STF 16 soldiers are ensuring facilities are prepared for the upcoming influx of service members passing through the modest Romanian air base.
Part of their mission includes ensuring transients have a place to lay their heads and the necessary transportation to and from the air field. They ensure transiting personnel are scheduled for their follow-on flights and receive all required life support services.
"We want to make sure their stay is as comfortable as possible," said Sgt. Maj. Johnny Valdez, the STF 16 sergeant major and a native of Harker Heights, Texas. As the soldiers of STF 16 start executing that mission in the near future, the way ahead is to ensure personnel coming and going from Central Command's area of responsibility are processed in a fast and efficient manner so that they can focus on their mission.
"During the time the soldiers are here, we make sure they have all the amenities they need," added Lt. Col. Cody Zilhaver, the commander of STF 16. "We have several expeditionary services on base, such as (Moral, Welfare and Recreation) facilities and (exchange services); support you would normally find on a military installation."
"We also provide administrative and logistical support in addition to religious, medical and security services," added the Cambridge Springs, Pa. native.
The soldiers on the ground are the vital lynchpin to STF 16 efforts. Soldiers at the lowest levels are entrusted with some of the most important responsibilities, ensuring every part of STF 16's mission is accomplished.
"Getting a team together within a short timeframe and having them perform to the standards of excellence that they have has been the most remarkable aspect thus far," said Valdez. "They do their jobs as professionals and they're making things happen."
"I think we've asked a lot of them in terms of their performance and the things we've asked them to accomplish, and they haven't fallen short," added Valdez.
The back bone of STF 16 is the 16th Sust. Bde.'s Special Troops Battalion, but also includes elements from many other organizations. Working alongside the 16th STB are elements from the 709th Military Police Battalion, 18th MP Bde.; 421st Multifunctional Medical Bn., 30th Med. Bde.; 15th Engineer Bn., 18th Eng. Bde.; 18th Combat Sustainment Support Bn., 16th Sust. Bde.; and a complement of soldiers from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment.
"STF 16 is a team of teams coming together as a task force with strong unity of effort and command to accomplish our passenger transit mission," added Zilhaver.
"There's quite a few elements involved," said Valdez. "That, coupled with the support that's already on the ground, has really helped close the gaps. This truly is a team of teams - slice elements that are making everything happen."
Setting up an operation at MK Air Base isn't without its challenges. Between deploying multiple soldiers with little preparation time and preparing them to be away from Families and loved ones, the soldiers of STF 16 have had to overcome many obstacles.
"For those who probably haven't deployed before, soldiers being away from their families can be challenging," said Valdez. "I think the soldiers who have deployed know the tricks of the trade to get past those instances where they might feel homesick. (Social networking sites) are available to them now and it's a great tool to keep in touch with loved ones back in the rear."
Another challenge for soldiers with STF 16 is understanding and executing a large-scale mission with little preparation time. Many of the soldiers had no more than 30 days notice before deploying to MK, a short time frame to overcome any obstacles that may occur.
The first challenge the leadership of STF 16 ran into was developing its concept of support, said Zilhaver. "We had to define the mission and identify resources we could bring to bear in order to accomplish the mission."
However, STF 16 is overcoming those challenges and moving forward with preparations for passenger transit center operations.
"We picked the right people to deploy and conduct this mission," said Zilhaver. "Things are really starting to come together. We've come a long way in the few weeks that we've been here and we're on a glide path to do well."
Partnership with airmen from the 18th Air Force and the Romanian Air Force is another critical part of mission success.
"We depend on the Air Force to coordinate flights and liaise with the Romanian Air Force and international airport," said Zilhaver. "Those relationships are critical."
"Our success depends on our ability to integrate our operations with theirs," added Valdez. "It helps us to ensure we are processing soldiers coming from or going to the CENTCOM area in a fast and efficient manner."
Additionally, the task force relies heavily on the support of the 21st TSC and their Regional Support Element, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and the Black Sea Area Support Team in order to effectively conduct operations at MK.
At the end of the day, the soldiers of STF 16 are ready to begin moving passengers through MK and provide them with the necessary support during their short stay.
"This is a great mission for the 16th Sust. Bde.," said Zilhaver. "Our soldier are well qualified, motivated and task oriented. Our work relationships with the Air Force and with the Romanians absolutely could not be better and it's that unity of effort by all stakeholders that makes things move a lot smoother."