MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIRFIELD, Romania – From May through July, more than 100 Marines and sailors deployed to Eastern Europe as the first Security Cooperation Marine Air Ground Task Force in the Balkan, Black Sea and Caucasus regions.
“What we’re accomplishing here is 40 percent of Marine Corps Forces Europe’s theater security cooperation requirements in a three-month period,” said Lt. Col. Tom Gordon, commander of the Black Sea Rotational Force Security Cooperation MAGTF.
Black Sea Rotational Force worked in partnership with 12 nations in the region throughout the deployment with the mission to promote regional stability, bolster partner nations’ military capabilities and build enduring partnerships.
The core of the rotational force came from 1st Tank Battalion, based out of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. 1st Tank Bn. Marines and sailors formed the command and logistics elements of the Security Cooperation MAGTF, and provided a scout platoon as part of the ground
combat element for training with partner nations in peacekeeping operations.
“No matter what we threw at them, they were ready, willing and motivated to try,” said Cpl. Devin Bullard, an assaultman with scout platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Tank Bn. Marines and soldiers from Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania and Ukraine completed two-week training evolutions where they worked hand-in-hand with 1st Tank Bn.’s scout platoon, honing their skills in combat marksmanship, convoy operations, military operations on urban terrain, martial arts, nonlethal weapons techniques and other areas crucial to peacekeeping operations.
“This is a great opportunity for us to know the Marines,” said Romanian Land Forces 1st Lt. Lawrence Diaconu, a platoon leader with the 341st Infantry Bn. “I expect my men to show they are prepared to fight with America in Afghanistan.”
The air combat element of Black Sea Rotational Force, composed of more than 20 Marines and a pair of KC-130T Hercules aircraft from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadrons 234 and 452, supplied troop and cargo transport support, as well as training support for Romanian airborne forces in coordination with the Romanian Land and Air forces.
“It’s always nice to jump from a C-130,” said Romanian Capt. Claudio Rotaru, a Romanian paratrooper who participated in the training. “I have a very good opinion of training with the U.S.”
Black Sea Rotational Force also operated military-to-military familiarizations in several nations throughout the region, and worked with Romanian forces to host symposiums on subjects including logistics, military intelligence, and military and civil affairs.
“It’s great to bring all of us together to learn how we can perform better in our missions throughout the world,” said Gunnery Sgt. Thurman Cowan, the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of civil affairs for Black Sea Rotational Force, of the military and civil affairs symposium attended by U.S. Marines and soldiers, as well as four partner nations. “We learned a lot from them, and I think they learned a lot from us.”
In addition to hands-on training in partnership with nations in the region, Black Sea Rotational Force supported multiple community improvement projects, refurbishing the living areas and a playground at homes for HIV-positive children and teens in eastern Romania. They also partnered with Bulgarian troops to refurbish a medical treatment facility in the mountain village of Zheravna, and deliver toys, clothes, and furniture to an orphanage near Bulgaria’s Novo Selo Training Area.
“In the relatively short time we have been here, my Marines and sailors have tried to give something back,” said Gordon, a native of Boston. “These projects, though small, are examples of our resolve to not only strengthen the military-to-military relationship, but to build a rapport with the local community.”
The Marine Corps Forces Europe command said they see a growing partnership based on the success of the Black Sea Rotational Force, and have already begun planning for future deployments. Brig. Gen. Paul Brier, the commander of Marine Corps Forces Europe, said next year’s training is expected to include peacekeeping operations training, counter-insurgency training, military-to-military familiarizations, symposiums, bi-lateral aviation events, conducting “train the trainer” noncommissioned officer academies and expanding community relations projects.
And while this year Black Sea Rotational Force completed many missions, Gordon said he is proud of the way his Marines and Sailors carried out what is perhaps the most crucial – building enduring bonds with citizens and soldiers in the region.
“Since our arrival two months ago, my Marines and I have felt welcomed, and have been afforded the opportunity to enjoy Romania’s rich culture while completing a vitally important mission,” said Gordon. “The Black Sea Rotational Force is a partnership that I am proud to say has grown in to a friendship.”