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Romania: An eye on Ukraine

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Nevada MPs deployed to Eastern Europe provide security at a NATO base

MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU, Romania — A cold wind pushed the frosty breath of winter from the Black Sea over the eastern flank of Romania, once a foe more than 30 years ago but now a major partner in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

NATO grew out of the rubble of Europe after World War II and became a solid front to the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain during the 45-year Cold War. The Berlin Wall, the symbol of divide between the NATO allies and Warsaw Pact nations controlled by, toppled in 1989 to signal the end of the Soviet’s domination over eastern Europe.

Since that time, Eastern Europe flipped with many of the former Iron Curtain countries to join NATO during the following decade. Romania, along with five other countries, became a member in 2004 and within the past two decades, the country that has a window facing the Black Sea is now an integral member by housing troops and aviation.

“How we show up in the world sends a message of how we’ve done everything right with leadership,” said Maj. Gen. Ondra Berry, the adjutant general for Nevada.

The planning for the June 2022 deployment of the Nevada Army National Guard’s 137th Military Police Det., to Romania occurred months before the fighting broke out between Russia and Ukraine. The deployment of 40 soldiers from the Carson City company was and still is to provide security to the garrison comingled with the Romanian Air Force at Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) Air Base, 25 miles east of the country’s second largest city and major Black Sea resort, Constanta.

A map shows the relationship of the Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) Air Base to Ukraine and Crimea.
Wikipedia maps
A map shows the relationship of the Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) Air Base to Ukraine and Crimea. Wikipedia maps

Soldiers from throughout northern Nevada including the Reno-Sparks area, Fallon, Fernley, Winnemucca and Elko comprise the ranks of the 137th Military Police Co. This is the second Nevada unit to deploy to Eastern Europe this decade. Berry said he sees additional units coming to this part of Europe again, specifically to Romania and Poland. 

In January 2020, the first Nevada Army National Guard battalion to deploy to Europe in peacetime received a sendoff. The one-year deployment took the battalion to Poland and other countries in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

Berry and a small contingent of seven soldiers from the Nevada Guard visited the military policemen for several days at the end of January. Not only did Berry and his staff seek more information about the MPs’ mission, but they also wanted to learn the importance of the NATO installation that now houses American troops and the relationship that’s developing with Romania.

“The times that we are in,” said Berry when discussing the current state of affairs. “It’s a very tenuous area in the world right now. At times there’s no end in sight.”

When the unit deployed, two dozen soldiers remained in Nevada.

“I love visiting countries that are our partners and allies,” Berry pointed out. “I like to see how they (Romanians) have put together their military and see their quality of life.”

Nevada Army National Guard’s the 137th Military Police Det., from Carson City is providing security at a NATO air base in Romania. Steve Ranson / LVN
Nevada Army National Guard’s the 137th Military Police Det., from Carson City is providing security at a NATO air base in Romania. Steve Ranson / LVN

What Berry saw was a great relationship between the United States and Romania.

The leadership between Romania and the United States didn’t develop overnight. During the war in Afghanistan, U.S. military personnel began using Romania as a staging area for Afghanistan in October 2013 after a former Soviet republic, Kyrgyzstan, opted not to extend a lease extending into mid-2014. 

Troops heading to Afghanistan and returning home to the United States after deployment flew to MK Air Base. When Turkey opted not to continue involvement with the Iraq War, the MK Air Base also became an important stop for the refueling and supplying of troops in Iraq and also countries within the region.

Lt. Col. Brian Fiddermon, garrison commander of the Army Support Activity Black Sea since August, has seen rapid growth at the installation.

“We have 4,200 hundred here and that’s not including our NATO partners,” Fiddermon said in a meeting with Berry, his staff and the  137th MP commander, Capt. Bryan Hernandez of Fernley.

Fiddermon said Hernandez and the MPs have done everything he has asked of them. Back in Nevada, Hernandez is a full-time Guardsman who commutes from his hometown of Fernley to Carson City. Being on another deployment is nothing new for the career soldier. Hernandez has been with MP company for more than six years and has spent a 19 years in the Army. His previous deployments have been to Iraq and Kuwait.

“At the end of the day, we’ve taken the bull by the horns to make it work,” Fiddermon added.

Brig. Gen. Troy Armstrong, the Nevada Army National Guard’s Land Component commander, said Fiddermon has a huge task of commanding the garrison especially when the camp population experiences a tremendous, yet quick population spurt.

“What he wants to do is to build and bring in resources,” Armstrong said.

Brig. Gen. Troy Armstrong, the Nevada Army National Guard’s Land Component commander, speaks with Capt. Bryan Hernandez, commander of the 137th Military Police, Det., at the Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) Air Base, Romania.
Steve Ranson / LVN
Brig. Gen. Troy Armstrong, the Nevada Army National Guard’s Land Component commander, speaks with Capt. Bryan Hernandez, commander of the 137th Military Police, Det., at the Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) Air Base, Romania. Steve Ranson / LVN

Hernandez, though, said the MPs have to be flexible because of the command environment. 

“We, the MPs, and any unit for that matter, must always expect to operate in a resource constrained environment,” he said. “We are asked or tasked with a variety of mission tasks in addition to traditional law enforcement. These tasks have included things such as escorting VIPs, providing additional security for special events, supporting gate/ECP operations, completing random anti-terrorism measures, and providing manning for the base defense operations center to name a few.”

Hernandez said his position is that of a provost marshal or police chief and with that also comes community policing. 

“It’s not like Afghanistan,” Hernandez said. “We go out in the community.”

The air base is like a small town compete with its own fire department, recreational facilities, housing, a small post exchange, dining facility, medical facility and engineers. Soldiers from the 137th MPs also investigate crime and work with CID (Criminal Investigation Division) agents on specific cases. Soldiers from Fort Carson, Colorado, also share the building and conduct patrols within the garrison’s perimeter. 

The Romanians, though, are responsible for both the airfield and aviation assets.

In addition to the soldiers assigned at MK Air Base, another six Nevada Guardsmen have been sent to Bulgaria, another NATO partner, to perform similar duties. A helicopter flight with several members of Berry’s group to Bulgaria on one of the mornings was scrapped because of inclement weather.

Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Curtis Kolvet, who accompanied Berry on the visit, said he was disappointed the trip was cancelled. When Kolvet was commander of the 593rd Transportation Co., at Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan, in 2011-2012, one of the other companies his unit trained came from the Bulgarian Army.  

According to the Black Sea Command, “The Novo Selo Training Area is a major Bulgarian military training facility established in 1962. NATO and other nations use the training area, frequently. The facility has designated areas and sectors for tank shooting, and nuclear, biological, and chemical defense and reconnaissance training.”

The U.S. Army began using the installation in 2008.

The next 60 days are crucial for Nevada’s MPs, however. Fiddermon said the MPs will transition from the MK Air Base back to Nevada and another brigade will report to the base. Fiddermon said many soldiers reporting to the base have never deployed together. 

Berry said he was very pleased with the visit to Romania. To date, he has received many accolades on the MPs.

“As recently as today, I received an email from one of the commanders from the active Army,” Berry said, before reading the message. “Your troops have been outstanding, and they came here in one environment and changed their ability to adapt and be flexible and pivot very quickly and take some of the challenges.”

Nevada’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Ondra Berry, left, and Lt. Col. Brian Fiddermon, garrison commander of the Army Support Activity Black Sea, discuss the mission of the 137th Military Police Co., Nevada Army National Guard at the Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) Air Base, Romania. Steve Ranson / LVN
Nevada’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Ondra Berry, left, and Lt. Col. Brian Fiddermon, garrison commander of the Army Support Activity Black Sea, discuss the mission of the 137th Military Police Co., Nevada Army National Guard at the Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) Air Base, Romania. Steve Ranson / LVN

From the time the MPs arrived last summer at the MK Air Base, the number of garrison personnel has rapidly increased. Fiddermon knows the importance of the installation and the responsibilities the MPs have. In the short time he has been there, the base population has increased four-fold for a mission that’s more important now than what is was one year ago. Fiddermon welcomes guests and VIPs to the garrison on a weekly basis. 

Fiddermon, though, becomes serious when he describes the tension in the region. The career Army officer from Maryland quickly points out to his guests the MK Air Base is a “short” 7-minute missile launch away from the Russian-held Crimea.

“This location and Poland are more strategically located in Eastern Europe to defend the area,” Fiddermon said. “Those are the facts. This is a tough mission.”

The response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 first prompted NATO’s Enhanced Air Policing that has involved air forces from Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain. The Italian Air Force rotated into MK Air Base during the 137th MP’s deployment, relieving the Canadians.

While the U.S. Army including the 137th MPs ensure the garrison is safe, the Romanian Air Force takes responsibility for the security of the fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

“If we live together, we have to learn how to fight together,” Fiddermon said.

Steve Ranson
Steve Ranson
Steve Ranson is Editor Emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News.

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