By Ms. Jaclyn Pennoyer (Grafenwoehr)July 11, 2017
MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIR BASE, Romania -- The marching drum beats quickly at two Army forward operating sites located in Eastern Europe.
Camp Mihail Kogalniceanu in Romania, and Novo Selo Training Area, Bulgaria, are seeing rapid increases in the number of multinational forces and complex joint military exercises.
In the last decade, the two small operating sites were largely used by the U.S. military as passenger and cargo transit centers for contingency operations in the Middle East.
But with the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with the rise of tensions along Eastern Europe's border, the two locations assumed more pressing missions as power projection platforms and strategically-located, multimodal operation hubs, according to leadership from the sites' two U.S. military command elements: the Black Sea Area Support Team and USAG Ansbach-MK/NSTA.
Equipped with an air strip and several helicopter landing pads, thousands of acres of multipurpose training grounds, and proximate access to all methods of transportation, Camp MK and NSTA have taken a more prominent seat at U.S. Army Europe's table of operations, said BS-AST commander Col. Steven Shepherd.
While the sites remain at "cold-base manning levels" -- remnants from their lag in operations after a sustained slowdown in passenger transits -- the number of stateside Army units deploying here as part of a rotational forces concept has increased.
Part of the mission overhaul included converting Camp MK/NSTA into enduring installations with enhanced garrison infrastructure, said David Tiedemann, director of operations and plans for USAG Ansbach-MK/NSTA, which is part of Installation Management Command-Europe. The two forward locations are seen as strategic staging sites and operation hubs for the region's persistent presence of troops and multinational exercises, such as Saber Guardian 17.
In April 2016, a small team of senior garrison experts visited the two installations to establish initial operating capabilities, laying the groundwork for a fuller spectrum of base operations and life support, Tiedemann said. Since then, the team -- consisting of only a handful of personnel -- has slowly assumed authority and management of the most traditional garrison functions at the two forward bases.
IMCOM-Europe has worked hand-in-glove with U.S. Army Europe and BS-AST, said Lt. Col. Tracey Smith, commander of USAG Ansbach-MK/NSTA.
"Units shouldn't be concerned about how to run an installation. Their focus is to train Soldiers to be mission-ready -- to go to war," said Smith, adding that IMCOM ensures installations are ready and able to provide direct support.
Smith and Command Sgt. Maj. Ernest Peterson lead IMCOM's charge at Camp MK/NSTA, with their team rapidly developing and implementing area-specific operating procedures -- all while upholding rigorous garrison standards, Smith said.
In just the last four months, the team has seen a steady, measured improvement in IMCOM-controlled assets and activities, including morale and welfare programs, expedited postal services and enhanced operational oversight.
The team's strongest asset, however, is its ability to respond quickly to daily challenges and operate efficiently in a fast-paced, transitory environment, said Smith.
Additionally, operations personnel from Camp Ansbach-MK/NSTA and BS-AST work closely alongside one another toward common goals.
The installation management team's greatest challenges, according to Smith, are funding, staff shortages and standing up fully functional garrison sections while the locations undergo rapid expansion and transition.
The team is also operating with a small staff, as the combined total workforce for the two sites will be only 51 people.
Positions at both Camp MK and NSTA are unique opportunities for military and civilian personnel eager for challenges and ready to develop a garrison presence in an environment that IMCOM calls "Spartan plus Wi-Fi," Smith said.
"There's only 76 established garrisons (in the Army). You are overseas, you are in a deployed status, and you're at a forward operating site. Who else can say, 'I have stood up a garrison'?"
The unaccompanied tours run up to 18 months, and the general installation climate mimics those of many deployed locations, according to Steven Povilaitis, deputy to the USAG Ansbach-MK/NSTA commander. All permanently-hired civilians are also eligible to receive a 25 percent salary bonus and are provided numerous opportunities to cross-train in other garrison functional area, accelerating professional development.
To help offset costs in the future, IMCOM-Europe hopes to capitalize on the pool of dual-speaking local nationals who are experienced in supporting such sites.
Overall, IMCOM-Europe and BS-AST's operations at the two forward locations have further strengthened an already existing rapport between partnering militaries.
"Our relationship is a good opportunity, a real opportunity to work with the United States," added Col. Eduart Dodu, Mihail Kogalniceanu Romanian Air Base commander. "It's so easy. (We) resolve problems quickly."
Dodu said he also hopes the Romanian and U.S. militaries continue to work together as the air base expands and begins hosting more large-scale exercises in coming years.
Just a short drive from the coast of the Black Sea, Camp MK and Novo Selo Training Area are IMCOM's easternmost supported installations, stretching the command's area of operations across the European theater and moving garrisons into somewhat novel frontiers, Smith said.
"We are posturing ourselves to help defend and assist our NATO allies. We are right there, tip of the spear."