Factual · Powerful · Original · Iconoclastic
There are an amazing 37 nations taking part in the war in Afghanistan. Want to hear something even more amazing? Out of all those countries, a grand total of six are willing to send their troops into combat: The United States, Britain, Canada, Estonia (which is smaller than several American cities), the Netherlands and Romania. Italy keeps its troops far from combat, yet their very presence here almost toppled the Italian government. Turkish soldiers have an excellent reputation for fighting and it would help that they are Muslim. But no go.
Here at Lagman FOB we have soldiers from the U.S., a few from the Afghan National Army, four technicians from the Netherlands about to be replaced by Brits, and there's an Arab nation that has a medical team here but their government is very sensitive about their presence and I've been asked not to identify them. And finally, we have the guys who run the show here: the 500-member Romanian 182nd Infantry Battalion, labeled "Carpathian's Hawks." The reference is to the mountain range, which virtually encircles the country.
Commanding the 812th is Maj. Ovidiu Liviu Uifaleanu. His troops launch more than 50 missions a week, most supporting the Afghan National Police who protect the vital route of Highway 1, which didn't use to be so important until it was converted from secondary road to a fine piece of asphalt highway. It goes directly from Qalat to Kandahar but also tremendously cuts the time needed to get to Kabul.
The Romanians travel in new American Humvees (they just took possession of six more) or in Russian-style but Romanian-made armored personnel carriers (APCs). (All of their weapons are also made in Romania, including the interestingly-named antitank guided missile system, the FAGOT.) During a live fire exercise they allowed me to fire both the mounted guns on the APCs, the 14.5 millimeter, which is similar to our M-2 .50 caliber and a 7.62 machine gun which is similar to the M-240s we sometimes mount on our Humvees.
The Romanians believe far more in comfort than do the Americans. They either wear rolled-up sleeves on their uniform jackets or simply a t-shirt that has the same camouflage pattern as the uniform. They also often wear shorts. Americans wear their sleeves down at all times and the only shorts they have are boxers and briefs. During their live-fire exercise, the Romanians didn't wear body armor. During the American live-fire exercise I went on the next day we did wear body armor because that's what you're going to be wearing in combat.
APCs and a Humvee. Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.Carpathian's Hawks was constituted in 1995, not long after the country's anti-communist revolution. It has seen service in Angola, southern Iraq and in Afghanistan from 202-2003. It's currently in the middle of a six-month mission here, and will be replaced by another Romanian unit when it leaves.
(Other Romanian units have served in southern Iraq, including at a base camp called "Dracula." While Dracula or Vlad Tepes is seen as a figurative or literal monster in much of the West, he's a hero in Romania because the rather unorthodox methods of Vlad the Impaler did keep the advancing Turkish empire at bay. Say what you will about old Dracula, but without him Romania would probably be Muslim today instead of being overwhelming Christian Orthodox.)
When I asked the Major (and that's what I call him, for fear of the 100 percent probability of mispronouncing his name) why Romania is fighting here when nations with vastly larger militaries refuse to fire a shot in anger, he gives a soldier's answer. "At higher echelons they make those decisions," he says. But "We are keeping our promise as a member of NATO." Aha! But Romania didn't join NATO until 2004. "Then," he explains, "we were keeping our promise as a membership of the Partnership for Peace." That organization, he says, is (and these are my words), sort of a prep school for NATO.
In any case, God bless the Romanians. I'm going on patrol with them tomorrow and will blog on it.