Reporting from Romania: An eye toward Ukraine

Nevada 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 Air Base, Romania.

Nevada 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 Air Base, Romania.
Photo by Steve Ranson.

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Editor’s note: Nevada News Group military reporter Steve Ranson recently returned from a trip to Romania.

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, toppled in 1989 to signal the end of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.

Since that time, many of the former Iron Curtain countries joined NATO. Romania, along with five other countries, became a member in 2004. 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 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. The air base was named after a Romanian prime minister who served in the mid-1860s.

This is the second Nevada unit to deploy to Eastern Europe this decade. In January 2020, a Nevada Army National Guard battalion deployed to Poland and other countries for one year 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 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.

“It’s a very tenuous area in the world right now,” Berry said. “At times there’s no end in sight.

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

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.

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 countries in the region.

The garrison at the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania has been home since last summer for the 137th Military Police Det., Nevada Army National Guard. Steve Ranson/NNG

 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. Hernandez has been with MP company for more than six years and has spent 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 grows rapidly.

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

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, 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 Criminal Investigation Division agents on specific cases. Soldiers from Fort Carson, Colo., also share the building and conduct patrols within the garrison’s perimeter.

Romanians are responsible for 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 canceled. When Kolvet was commander of the 593rd Transportation Co., at Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan, in 2011-12, 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. 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 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.”

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. Fiddermon welcomes guests and VIPs to the garrison on a weekly basis.

Fiddermon becomes serious when he describes the tension in the region. The career Army officer from Maryland 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.

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


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