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839th Transportation Battalion leadership enjoys ... an Eastern European orientation.

The 839th Transportation Battalion leadership recently traveled through part of their Eastern European area of operations (AO) in support of future missions. It is an area of great contrasts: "One EURO for one METER of land!" a sign in Bulgaria reads. Later, a quarter million dollar red Ferrari screams by a donkey cart holding an entire Romanian family.

The possibilities of Eastern Europe are attractive and the U.S. military is considering placing emphasis in this area. As the U.S. Army downsizes in Germany, the focus may shift to the east in the form of Joint Task Force East (JTFE). This new organization will be based in the countries of Bulgaria and Romania. Working in these new areas is not without its challenges. However, the 839th from Pisa, Italy, is leaning forward by laying the groundwork at the ports that will support these future operations.

The purpose of this exercise was to train in the battalion's METL tasks of deploy and redeploy, provide command and control, conduct water terminal operations (planning), and protect the force. In addition to the training value of this event, the exercise was essential for the battalion's new leadership to orient to this area as well as meet with their counterparts at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, to discuss support of their redeployment. The exercise also served as a great team building event.

The JTF mission could bring a brigade based element that rotates every six months from either CONUS or Europe, giving the 839th a large increase of work in this AO. Fortunately, the 839th is no stranger to these ports. Both the battalion's Greek and Turkish detachments have been working the ports of Constantza, Romania, and Bourgas, Bulgaria for years, primarily in support of KFOR rotations. In addition, they have supported Romanian and Bulgarian Army equipment movements in support of OEF and OIF.

Even though the local national detachment members had been to the ports before, it was time for a visit from the battalion staff and new members of the detachment leadership. With members from the staff and the Italy, Greece, and Turkey Detachments, the 839th hit the road in late October, driving more than 2200 miles in six days. Being geographically separated could make command and control difficult for the 839th's battalion commander, Lt. Col. Gene Sullivan, but it's the battalion's expeditionary capabilities and camaraderie among the different nations that make them able to adapt to all situations. This expeditionary mindset was unmistakable in these site visits, as a team of Greeks and the battalion S-3, Maj. Sam Miller, drove from Greece to Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo for KFOR redeployment coordination, and then on to the Eastern European coast.

Concurrently with this visit, two other small teams were busy preparing for port visits in Romania and Bulgaria. The site visits mirrored the 839th's real world operations, often with several missions occurring at once, allowing DA civilians, local nationals, and military members to lead their small teams to accomplish the mission. Whether it's a small but sensitive mission like this or a multiple ship discharge like during last year's exercise Bright Star in Egypt, the battalion leverages the detachment members and battalion staff to accomplish the mission. This exercise gave us the opportunity to deploy from multiple home stations into multiple countries nearly simultaneously, stressing our ability to provide command and control, one of our key METL tasks.

The first of our port visits was to the Port of Bourgas, Bulgaria. Remarkably modern, it was primarily an industrial port to feed the Soviet Union's hungry steel appetite during communist influence. With an improved container terminal as well as a substantial Roll On/Roll Off(RORO) berth, the port can easily support a brigade task force that might deploy into Bulgaria. In the past the 839th's Greek Detachment moved more than 3000 pieces of cargo to include ammunition through the port and were very impressed with the contractor and port capabilities.

Next on the trip was the Port of Varna, Bulgaria, 100 miles to the north. Although limited in availability by existing commercial business, Varna also has new facilities that could assist U.S. Forces for both rotations and sustainment. The visit with the port authority was very valuable as we gained an understanding of the new facilities and capabilities as well as re-established relationships.

To accommodate military cargo arriving in Romania, the next stop at the Port of Constantza fits the bill. A major transportation center for Eastern Europe, this port sits at the mouth of the Danube River, with intercoastal service all the way into Germany and beyond. Surveying one of the ports of his Turkey Detachment AOR for the first time, detachment director Christopher Zahner was immediately impressed.

"Seeing the vast potential of the Port of Constantza for supporting military forces operations in Eastern Europe was an eye-opener. The Port has superb facilities and a high throughput capability, more than 900,000 TEUs per year, and is just what our forces need for immediate deployment and long term sustainment," he said.

Along with the seeing the facilities and critical infrastructure (road and rail) leading to and from the ports, these site visits were also a good exercise for the 839th in planning the complicated travel arrangements, orders processes, and diplomatic clearances that are always part of an expeditionary battalion's mission. As an expeditionary organization, the members of the 839th must always be ready to leave at a moment's notice, arrive in an unfamiliar location, and perform the contracting, port operations, and often the onward movement missions in support of U.S. and Coalition forces.

According to the Greek Detachment director, Spero Pekatos, the long hours in transit to each location did not go to waste.

"Having battalion and detachment staff together in the same vehicles on these trips offered a unique opportunity to discuss and solve various issues. These issues covered a broad spectrum of areas from port operations to implementing new automation systems," he said. This was an excellent opportunity for the organization to once again exercise their expeditionary capabilities.

The future holds many challenges for the 839th and the U.S forces operating in Eastern Europe. As we prepare for missions in the Eastern European AO, the 839th Transportation Battalion is leaning forward in the planning and preparation phases to ensure that they are ready when called upon. Preparing the ports, ensuring the hiring of competent contractors, and training the ability to rapidly deploy and move quickly throughout the AOR will be the keys to their success.

by Elise Holtan

839th Trans Bn Planner
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Author:Holtan, Elise
Date:Mar 22, 2007
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