MIHAIL KOGĂLNICEANU, Romania — Airmen who have worked with Romanian Air Force Comandor (colonel) Nicolae Cretu have described him as one of the brightest military minds in their country. A career officer, Cretu attended the Henri Coanda Air Force Academy, his country’s equivalent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and since 2001 he has held a number of key positions in his country’s military.
One of his aides at the Mihail Kogălniceanu Air Base said Cretu is destined to be the country’s next general. He is commander of the Romanian Air Force 57th Air Base at Mihail Kogălniceanu, a major military installation 25 miles northeast of Constanta, the country’s second-largest city and a major Black Sea resort. Mihail Kogălniceanu Air Base, a relic of the Cold War, was built in 1955, and is the closest NATO operation to Ukraine and Russia, which annexed the Crimea in 2014.
ROMANIA, U.S. SPLIT COMMAND
Cretu began his career as a helicopter pilot with the 57th Air Base, and he became acting commander of the base in August 2022 and permanent commander in December. Cretu is responsible for all the air assets including rotary-wing aircraft and fighter jets flown by another NATO air force deployed to the base. The Italian Air Force deployed in November to Romania with four Eurofighters to safeguard the Black Sea coast and secure the region. Canada, Great Britain and Spain also rotate their jets to MK Air Base.
Cretu said the air base has the most advanced aircraft, and his hopes hinge on the Romanian Air Force assigning two more F-16 squadrons to MK Air Base. He said the third squadron is scheduled for 2025.
Cretu, who has recorded more than 1,200 hours of flight time, manages the air assets while the U.S. Army is responsible for the garrison. He is overseeing an expansion at the base that began in 2021. Eventually, the expansion will make the MK Air Base the same size as Ramstein Air Base in Germany with a troop population hovering near 10,000.
“As for my working relationship with Col. Cretu, he’s my Romanian base commander counterpart,” said Lt. Col. Brian Fiddermon, garrison commander of the Army Support Activity Black Sea. “We effectively complement each other. He shares 51% of the vote regarding facilities and long-term project development, etc. His security teams are closely integrated with the 137th Military Police Co., regarding perimeter base defense in the broader public safety domain.”
The Nevada Army National Guard’s 137th Military Police Det., deployed to Romania last summer with 40 soldiers. The Carson City unit is providing security to the garrison until they return home to Northern Nevada sometime this spring.
“To be clear, the 137th MP Co., works exclusively for me; however, there are areas of cross talk that occur between Colonel Cretu and me and the 137th,” Fiddermon added.
A FRANK DISCUSSION
The 44-year-old Cretu, an aviator who’s qualified to fly almost a dozen types of helicopters, invited the Nevada News Group for an interview a day after he had lunch with the visiting Nevada National Guard staff led by Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Ondra Berry and Brig. Gen. Troy Armstrong, the state’s land component commander. After lunch, Cretu and his staff took his visitors on a tour of the base and to the airfield where several helicopters including a Chinook were secured on the tarmac. An Eurofighter had been moved inside a hangar, which also provided shelter for Cretu’s visitors on a cold, rainy afternoon.
The bloody war in Ukraine, which borders northeastern Romania, has relied more on conventional methods with ground troops and armor. The usage of drones, though, shows how technology can be a game changer.
“We don’t even forget the conventional fighting for war. Who knows what happens in the future with technology,” Cretu said, reflecting more on the history of war. “The longer we use technology, we’ll use less manpower.”
Yet, for the short term, Cretu foresees the assignment of a special operations unit that will integrate into the other services at MK Air Base as well as the addition of smaller units. He said a plan could depend on smaller units because of their advantages to use northeastern Romania for debarkation and embarkation.
“There will be more flexibility putting together more efficient, more flexible units coming from the different services,” he added.
Cretu said a country’s military doctrine will determine the sophistication of new weapons systems and alliances, such as the one Romania accepted in 2004 when it and five other countries joined NATO. Until 1989, Romania belonged to the Warsaw Pact, countries divided from the West by the former Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain during a 45-year Cold War. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the toppling of the country’s communist dictatorship, Romania sought to distance itself from the Soviet Union.
AN INTEGRAL AREA
Although the crisis in Ukraine is 200 miles away, Cretu said the Romanians in the area don’t feel the pressure of war; on the contrary, he said the people feel safe with the NATO presence.
“The Black Sea is an integral area for NATO,” Cretu stressed.
During the past decade, the MK Air Base has expanded to more than 4,100 military personnel, and Cretu said it will continue to grow.
“The Romanian development plan for the base is long term for 20 years,” he said. “We see the effects now.”
Cretu and Berry agree the Romanians and Americans have learned from each other. Cretu said the Romanians continue to improve their skills in working side by side with the U.S. soldiers at the base.
“This is appreciated with our colleagues and learning new things informally,” Cretu added, explaining how the language barrier can be challenging. “Part of the training is interacting and working with our U.S counterparts. They are a very open society to accept others.”
Cretu said Romania’s military has formed a good attitude toward the cooperation and is pleased with the professional relationship. Likewise, Berry said having previously interacted with foreign military leaders and based on their discussions, he knows the responses lead to more trust. Berry said for Cretu to schedule the lunch and tour of the base, he knew of the importance of the relationship between the two countries.
“Because of his conversations around our professionalism, our expertise and the respect of the professionalism of the military police and our willingness to be open is not only working with the Romanians but teaching them to have patience,” Berry said.
Berry said Cretu told him the Romanians don’t have many opportunities to develop skillsets or train on equipment.
According to Berry, the MPs have been open, welcoming and supportive to ensure the Romanians working beside them are treated just like their American counterparts. He said the Romanians are quickly gaining trust and learning the skill sets and what the Army requires for professional military police officers.
Armstrong said Romania is now on the edge of a regional conflict by keeping watch on an explosive situation.
“We had an interesting conversation. We talked about the seriousness of the situation, the threat. We have a better understanding,” Armstrong said.
“The biggest benefit is all the (foreign) troops may have experience with the Romanian soldiers or unit,” Cretu explained.
Likewise, he said the Romanians are adapting to U.S. standards, something Berry had encouraged. Cretu said the challenge for a commander is to make the relationship work among its partners.
“This leads to a big cooperation and makes it easier,” he added.
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