MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIR BASE, Romania - A month of furious planning, programming, construction and coordination culminated in the departure of around 300 soldiers for Afghanistan via MK Air Base Feb. 3.
The MK Passenger Transit Center, constructed by soldiers of the 902nd Engineer Company (Vertical), part of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command's 15th Eng. Battalion, 18th Eng. Brigade, served as a transition point for troops from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), who deployed from Fort Campbell, Ky. for a nine-month rotation in support of Operation During Freedom.
The mission validates the vision of leaders and planners from the Department of Defense through regional commands and individual units, who foresaw the creation of a temporary facility at MK designed to provide vital throughput, transload, transportation and personnel services support.
The temporary air transit facility provides essential logistical, transportation, reintegration and morale and welfare services, accommodating the flow of American service members into and out of European and Central Asian operating areas through the end of 2014 or the completion of current missions.
"This is one of several transportation hubs that will ensure our war fighters get into and out of theater quickly, safely and efficiently, ready to execute missions or reintegrate into their Families, units and communities as the case may be," said Lt. Col. Wayne Marotto, the lead 21st TSC spokesman. "We envision this as a temporary facility, but it's vital to the mission. It means a lot to commanders, who need to get troops into theater as safely and efficiently as possible, and it means a lot to soldiers eager to accomplish their mission or get home to their loved ones after a long deployment."
The base accommodates, at peak, around 2,000 transiting personnel. An enduring contingent of around 350 service members and civilians operates the passenger transit center, administers facilities and provides services.
Sgt. Maj. Tom Schultz, the Army liaison officer at Manas Transit Center, expressed optimism in the early stages of the mission. Procedures at the respective transit centers, he noted, differ significantly due to the relative scale, longevity and geographic layout of the facilities; but the team at MK accomplished a great deal in a brief time and processed their first group of transiting soldiers very effectively.
"I was really impressed with the way they brought them through the reception area," the Abingdon, Md. permanent resident said. "I think they have a great process in terms of scanning and administrative procedures. They had over 250 people 'swiped in' in less than half an hour - and they'll improve the process as they learn more and incorporate lessons-learned. The process will only get faster and better from here."
The leader who directed the effort to "stand up" the facility congratulated the small but dynamic team of planners, builders, information specialists, administrators and coordinators who transformed the vision into reality - largely during an intense five-week push spanning from the end of December through January.
"There were some naysayers who were very skeptical about our ability to complete this project in time," Col. Michael C. Snyder, the deputy commanding officer of the 21st TSC, officer-in-charge of the Regional Support Element at MK Air Base and a native of Dallas, Ore., told his team of Army and Air Force personnel. "You should be immensely proud of what you've accomplished during the last couple months. Don't let this moment pass without realizing we've come together as a team to achieve some amazing things."
Partners ranging from U.S. European Command, U.S. Army Europe, U.S. Air Force Europe and the Defense Logistics Agency to the Black Sea Area Support Team, the TSC and its subordinate organizations collaborated in the creation of the facility.
"We like to think of ourselves as a 'team of teams,'" Marotto said. "I can't imagine a better illustration of that concept. International allies and regional partners enabled this mission; cooperation among echelons from national to theater to brigade, battalion and team executed the mission; a joint force that included all our services as well as Civilians and contractors - some of them American and some of them local-national - made it happen on the ground. Coming together as a joint-combined team of teams to accomplish important things for the nation and the region - that's what our European presence and our European partnership are all about."
"The Romanians contributed enormously to this," the Houston native added. "We couldn't have accomplished the mission without their support - not only at the diplomatic but at the regional and local level. This partnership is about allies coming together to accomplish a mission - that means working through snowstorms and power outages as well as coordinating at embassies and international conferences."
The most distinguishing judges apply their own standards. Troops transiting through MK Air Base expect the new passenger transit center to expedite their arrival in-theater or their return home with a minimum of hassle and reasonable comfort. The early returns seem promising.
"Everything's gone pretty smooth since we got here," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Jones, a team leader with 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment and a native of Mokena, Ill. "The billets were really nice. We got in late and got bedded down, then we got up, had a great breakfast and came right out to the flight line."
"It's been a good experience in the short time that we've been here," added Spc. Brian Beaty, a cannon crewman with 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment and native of Cleveland, Tenn.
Some actually preferred the new MK facility to the much larger facility at Manas.
"Our stay here has been a lot better than at Manas," said Spc. Stephen Mayville, an automated tactical data system specialist with 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment and native of Grass Lake, Mich. "The facilities are awesome; they actually have buildings instead of tents. (The engineers) did a really great job building those facilities in such a short amount of time."