MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIR BASE, Romania - Nearly 40 years ago, murals depicting the glory of the Soviet military were freshly painted at the Novo Selo training area in Bulgaria. Today, nearly 20 years after the end of the Cold War they are flaking, subdued images of a bygone era. Now, artificial thunder echoes through the hills as a Bulgarian M1117 Guardian armored security vehicle runs the training course, mowing down targets with fire from its mounted heavy machine gun.
The son of a Lometa couple is faced with these reminders of the Cold War and the difficulties of conducting U.S. Army business in a foreign nation, as a member of Joint Task Force - East, a multi-national task force designed to make stronger allies of Romania and Bulgaria. The operation hones the skills of soldiers from all three nations as well as helping the people living in some of the poorest areas of the two European countries.
Army Maj. Stephen V. Ruzicka, son of Walter and Charlene Ruzicka of Lometa, is a squadron operations officer with the 4th Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, Vilseck, Germany, and is currently deployed to Romania to support the task force, based at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania.“I’m the squadron operations officer,” said Ruzicka, a 1990 graduate of Godley High School, Godley. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Tarleton State University, Stephenville. “We are planning and synchronizing the tactical scenarios with our Romanian allies for the training at the platoon and company level.”
Soldiers from all three countries trained together in individual and company-level movements as well as with armored vehicles, a variety of weapons and combat lifesaving skills. They also practiced the coordination needed to go into and clear a hostile urban area. In addition to the training, the soldiers took time to visit a number of local villages and allowed children to explore the vehicles they were using. “I am learning new words and different ways to solve problems while teaching the Romanians how the U.S. Army develops and executes plans,” said Ruzicka. “And this is an opportunity for our soldiers to get some extended maneuver training at the same time.”
Military training wasn’t the only reason American service members were in Romania and Bulgaria. A group of doctors and nurses traveled to several villages around the training bases in both countries. The team worked with local health care workers and translators to provide screenings for optical and other general health concerns. There was also a team of Navy Seabees helping renovate and upgrade local schools and medical facilities. In spite of the language barrier and cultural differences the American Soldiers and their Bulgarian or Romanian counterparts were usually able to get their messages across. “There are always some difficulties in language and customs differences, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a barrier. Rather, it’s a mutual understanding for the way each of us interacts with the other,” said Ruzicka, who has been in the Army for over 17 years, three of which were as an enlisted soldier before he became an officer.
Whether building new schools, bringing medical services to villages or practicing the art of war, Romanian, Bulgarian and American service members, like Ruzicka, are working to keep the positive relationships going long after everyone has gone home. The relationships built on this training ground will go a long way toward making sure the three nations can work together seamlessly, visit to their village. The visit was part of the Joint Task Force - East mission in Bulgaria and Romania.