October 21st, 2006 11:04 EST
COMUSAFE builds on U.S.-Romania relationship
BUCHAREST, Romania -- The road ahead for the partnering of U.S. and Romanian air forces continues on the fast-track after a visit Oct. 19 and 20 by the U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander, who met with key Romanian officials.
Gen. Tom Hobbins traveled to Romania for a firsthand look at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, where approximately 100 U.S. Air Force and Army servicemembers will be billeted at a new joint task force headquarters. From there, USAFE aircrews will have the opportunity to conduct aerial tactical training with their Romanian counterparts.
The new JTF headquarters and other combined endeavors with Romania falls under the U.S. European Command Theater Security Cooperation plan to enhance and strengthen the alliance among NATO and partnering nations.
"This is a very good time for our two countries. We are making a difference together," said General Hobbins.
His visit included meetings with acting Minister of Defense Corneliu Dobritoiu; Lt. Gen. Florian Pinta, the deputy chief of defense; Lt. Gen. Gheorghe Catrina, the Romanian Air Force chief of staff; and Cmdr. Dan Buciuman, Fetesti AB commander.
The movement forward is based on a proven past track record, noted General Hobbins.
"We are grateful for the strong support that Romania has given in the war on terror. I personally had the opportunity to visit Kabul during the period that it was under Romanian leadership, and I can tell you that the support was outstanding," said the general. "Romania has provided security in the Balkans, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. We have a good relationship when working and training together."
Minister Dobritoiu acknowledged the thanks and pledged his country's commitment to future efforts.
"We remain firmly committed to strategic airlift. We remain firm in our commitments to (the war on terror). We remain firm in our deployments in the Balkans," said Minister Dobritoiu.
Although the new JTF headquarters is still in development, combined training with Romania is already in progress. In August, Romanian MiG-21 and USAF F-16 pilots participated at Mihail Kogalniceanu AB in Exercise Viper Lance. The exercise marked the first time U.S. F-16 pilots trained in Romania, and General Hobbins said he hoped to see the cooperative training continue.
"We are continuously looking for opportunities to engage and to exchange information," said the general.
Opportunities under consideration include enlisted professional development, training, exercises and aircraft.
In 2005, two Romanian noncommissioned officers attended USAFE's Kisling NCO Academy for coursework. General Hobbins said future training options could include USAFE instructors traveling to Romania to view their professional military education programs.
"I think we should explore opportunities for our NCOs to learn more about leadership and professional military development together," he said.
The general also discussed the significance of aircraft upgrades.
"We have mutual interests in C-130 (Hercules) and their ability to move people and cargo. The timing of upgrades is very important," he said.
The spirit of the combined relationship between the two countries was equally embraced by Romanian defense officials. In Bucharest, General Pinta expressed appreciation for U.S. support of his country and military.
"I think whenever we have a U.S. delegation here, that must be emphasized; we're very proud of this cooperation," he said.
General Catrina also expressed his appreciation for the USAFE commander's visit.
"I am grateful for the friendship of our countries," General Catrina said.