KANDAHAR, Afghanistan—As part of the coalition forces working at Kandahar Air Field (KAF), Romania's 341st Infantry Battalion, 1st Company from Constantza, known as Task Force White Sharks, manage the guard towers and run three security patrols per day, around the clock, from the base into neighboring Afghan villages.
Romania has soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Romanian Area of Operations (AO) changed in April as Task Force AEGIS prepares for the transfer from the US lead Operation Enduring Freedom to NATO run International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). These Romanian soldiers arrived in Kandahar the first of the year. Deployment for troops is 6 months. By the end of July, they will be on their way home and a new group will replace them. The battalion around Kandahar has about 400 troops.
The Romanians lead several veterinarian and medical outreach programs near KAF. I was able to ride along on one. Before we left the last gate to go outside the wire, we stopped to lock and load the guns. Most of the guns were 7.62 mm, although some of the TABs have a 14.5 mm machine gun on top. The TAB 77 has four wheels and the TAB 79 eight wheels. At first I was in a TAB 79 at the end of the convoy, but I switched to a TAB 77 and rode with Lt. Alice Moldovan, Press Officer for the Romanian Army. She carried a 9 mm pistol.
“This is our main mission here, to keep KAF protected,” said Moldovan. “This is also keeping good relations with the neighbors.”
Supplies were stacked all around the interior of the TAB-77. The sounds of clips going in and bolts being pulled back filled my ears as we prepared to roll out into the wilds of Afghanistan. We were going to visit some of the neighboring villages and give out supplies to the Afghans. Supplies are donated regularly from various ISAF countries. Although the mission was humanitarian, the risk of attack was apparent.
Two Romanian soldiers have been injured by IEDs in the last few months. The odds seemed pretty good to survive an attack in these TABs. The armor is thick and all the precautions available to prevent IEDs were being taken.
We sailed a desert sea of wind blown garbage in waves of brush. The sand was the water with trash for white caps. We bounced up and down on bumps and washes, moving through the area as quickly as possible. Leaving KAF we passed a Russian built apartment complex, severely damaged by bombs. Afghans squatted in the bullet scarred remains.
The Romanians wear tan head scarves with R.O. on them, sand colored, under their helmets. It reminded me of “Lawrence of Arabia.” We navigated a labyrinth of mud walls and dirt roads. Inside these walls are green fields. Farming is the main industry in this area.
2Lt. Popa Remus, 25, is a platoon leader and has been on many of these missions.
“We are happy to help these people,” he told me. “For us it is interesting to get to know the people and learn about their culture. “
Remus said he works 24 hours a day. But in his spare time, he likes to play a game of soccer or basketball. The rooms at KAF are OK, he said. They have TV and internet.
The troops work on rotations with both types of missions, guard towers and security patrols. Remus goes out sometimes 3 or 4 times a week with his soldiers. Remus believes in this mission in Afghanistan and likes the Afghan people.
“They are poor and need to be helped,” he said “We have to know what they need.”
By visiting the neighbors regularly, these needs are met.
The Romanians make about four drop offs a month to the villages. They leave the supplies with the village leader, who distributes them to the people.
Molla Abdullah Kariz was the first village we stopped at. While dropping off supplies, a Romanian doctor examined an old man who had a headache and sore leg.
Previously, another village, Khoshab, had a 180 mm rocket lying out. Some children told the Romanians on patrol by pointing at the ordnance. An EOD team removed the bombs. The next day, more were placed in the same spot, and they were also removed.
Our second stop was a school. I stayed on the TAB and took some photos of the Afghan children swimming in a canal next to where we parked. We smoked a couple of cigarettes. The soldiers I was with were surprised I smoked. They didn't think that Americans smoked. They also mentioned that sometimes they miss the food back in Romania. They eat at the Defac, which serves American food and is run by KBR.
At the end of the mission, I spoke briefly with Lt. Col. Vasile Vreme, Battalion Commander of TASK FORCE WHITE SHARK.
He misses his family—and the Black Sea. He said what he likes the most about serving in Kandahar is that it keeps him busy. He likes activity and hates being bored.
Vreme arrived in Kandahar in December and has served in Kosovo, twice. As for Kandahar: “The relations with the locals are good,” he said. Considering I didn't get shot at our blown up on that mission, I agree.