BUCHAREST, Romania – Civil Affairs Team 3231, 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion, Green Bay, Wis., and the Romanian Salvation Army, delivered dozens of Christmas gifts to children and families around the city, Dec. 21.
Collectively, CAT 3231, the Office of Defense Cooperation, the U.S. Embassy, Soldiers from the 3-15 Infantry Regiment, Soldiers based at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Army Support Activity–Black Sea, and Area Support Group–Black Sea sponsored 125 children through the Romanian Salvation Army’s annual Angel Tree program. CAT 3231 played a central role as liaison, working with the Romanian Salvation Army and bringing various United States elements together to support the program.
“Humanitarian aid is always important,” said Cpt. Greg Caruso, Civil Affairs Team Chief. “Our partnership shows the U.S. is here to help support Romania.”
According to Caruso, a mission like this strengthens U.S. Civil-Military and partner-nation relations, though the focus is to provide clothes and toys to children in need and simply lend a helping hand during the holidays. The Romanian Salvation Army’s goal was to provide 200 children with Christmas gifts during the COVID-19 pandemic, but with the help of the U.S. Army, they supported over 300.
“We usually rely on schools who partner with us every year, but they all backed out because they weren’t meeting during the pandemic,” said Dave Haas, Communications & Development Manager, Romanian Salvation Army. “So [the civil affairs team] pulled through and helped make it that much more successful.”
The team started working closely with the U.S. Army Chaplain’s office at Mihail Kogalniceanu Airbase to arrange the Angel Tree charity program in the beginning of November. The day after Thanksgiving, they placed a Christmas tree decorated with lights and 125 gift tags—called “angels”—in the on-post dining facility. Soldiers and contractors walking by were encouraged to pick one of the “angels” and fulfill a child’s Christmas wish.
The day of the gift drop-off included home-visits to families and a small gathering at one of the Romanian Salvation Army’s community centers in Bucharest, where dozens of “angel” gifts crowded beneath a Christmas tree. While wearing masks and staying socially distanced, children sang carols with their families and unwrapped presents—some bigger than themselves. Boys and girls walked away with smiles and remote-control race cars, colored pencils and art books, new winter clothing, and dolls and action figures.
“When you are poor, sometimes you don’t see any escape. We want the children to see something else, not just what they are missing,” said Roxana Sandu, Regional Leader of the Romanian Salvation Army in Bucharest. “The hope is to give them the desire to fight to have something like this. Little children will grow up and remember the Salvation Army had an impact at one point in their life.”
They’ll remember the U.S. Army and CAT 3231, too. Caruso, with his teammates Sgt. 1st Class Isaac Anderson and Sgt. Garrett Montalvo, handed out gifts along with U.S. Army rank insignia and stickers with the Romanian and American flags. He also posed for a photo in front of the Christmas tree with the child who received his Angel Tree donation—a Spiderman action figure.
“The most fulfilling thing is to have the ability to build a good relationship, work with [the Romanians] and just make new friends,” said Caruso about his role in Romania.
He spoke at large about how events like today show the full reason for why he and his team enjoy humanitarian aid missions and the work they do to strengthen interoperability and partnerships with Romanian allies.
As much as participating in the Angel Tree program meant to Caruso and his team, their participation meant even more to the Salvation Army's progress as an organization, and to the wellbeing of the families it helps support.
“We hope next year to do more together because we really need partners,” said Sandu, as the day came to a close. “We cannot do it by ourselves.”