2017-10-06 / News Update

Soldiers find mix of austerity and comfort in Eastern Europe

David Vergun
Army News Service

A Soldier from 277th Aviation Support Battalion engages a target during a convoy live-fire exercise at Novo Selo Training Area, Bulgaria, on July 7, 2017. The training was part of Saber Guardian 17. 
SPC. THOMAS SCAGGS A Soldier from 277th Aviation Support Battalion engages a target during a convoy live-fire exercise at Novo Selo Training Area, Bulgaria, on July 7, 2017. The training was part of Saber Guardian 17. SPC. THOMAS SCAGGS CAMP MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU, Romania – “Spartan Plus Wi-Fi” is a term the Army uses to describe what Soldiers can expect to find in austere training locations like Camp Mihail Kogalniceanu in Romania and Novo Selo Training Area in Bulgaria.

Lt. Col. Tracey Smith, commander of U.S. forces at Camp MK and NSTA, explained that Soldiers might not receive all of the creature comforts they get at home or on other installations, but they do have Wi-Fi access that allows them to communicate with loved ones back home and take care of finances and so on.

Both Camp MK and NSTA lack a number of amenities, she said, including a commissary, hospital, community services center, transition assistance and central issue facility for uniforms, as well as fast food outlets like Burger King and Subway.

However, she noted that at both sites there are beds, showers, gyms, aide stations, dining and laundry facilities, post offices, small post exchanges, and, a place to relax and unwind at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation centers, which feature a small library, games, snack bars and computer Wi-Fi workstations.

Future spartans

The phrase “Spartan Plus Wi- Fi” recalls Greek warriors who lived a life of strict self-discipline marked by simplicity, frugality, and the avoidance of luxury and comfort, according to the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, or IMCOM.

“Our Soldiers are rugged professionals who seek out arduous conditions and thrive in them; they don’t run from them,” said Lt. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, commanding general of IMCOM. “Soldiers who operate in such conditions will be better trained, ready, and focused on lethality.”

In describing the future battlefield, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark Milley said in May, “The likelihood of massing forces on a base for any length of time certainly means you’re going to be dead. If you’re stationary, you’ll die,” he explained. “Those conditions are intense and very, very spartan, And we have got to condition ourselves to operate -- untether ourselves from this umbilical cord of logistics and supply that American forces have enjoyed for a long time.

As for U.S. forces currently rotating in and out of Europe to sharpen their combat skills, running an installation should not be their concern, Smith said. “Their focus is to train Soldiers to be mission-ready, to go to war. IMCOM ensures installations are ready to support that effort.”

Julia Sibilla, NSTA’s site director, said “we owe it to all our Soldiers to have decent food, cleanliness and a supportive place to train.”

That means a shower, a place to sleep, reasonable meal and a place to work out, she said, adding that she and her engineers have personally tour every facility to ensure everything is clean and in good working order prior to and following unit training.

Troops train all day and in the evening and arrive at the cantonment area sweaty, dirty and tired. Having these amenities gives them a chance to recharge and unwind for training the next day so they can focus and be on their game, she said.

Besides that, taking care of Soldiers is also a retention and readiness issue, she continued, providing some examples of readiness.

Giving Soldiers the chance to work out in a fully functioning gym, have a good night’s sleep and eat nutritious food contributes to their overall health and reduces sickness and injuries, she noted.

Also, U.S., host nation and NATO forces have soccer matches on the field or compete in ping-pong or other events. These activities foster a spirit of friendship and cooperation, she said.

Having these Spartan but high-quality amenities without all the frills of a full-service installation is also about using taxpayer dollars wisely, she added.

Dealing with spartan

Spartan conditions mean there will be times Soldiers must think creatively and create workarounds, according to Camp MK and NSTA leaders.

For instance, the troop medical clinic at both locations is categorized as “role 1” or the lowest level, said Maj. Dana Cook, director of health services at both locations. She explained that role 1 is basically an aide station with a few medical personnel, bandages, and some other items such as rabies vaccinations, should someone be scratched or bitten by the numerous feral cats and dogs that wander onto the installations.

Being classed role 1 means “no lab, X-rays, ultrasound, CT” and so on, she said, adding that she’s working hard to get some more capacity.

If a Soldier should break a leg, perhaps in a parachute jump, an aide station is not equipped to deal with that so he or she would be taken to a nearby host-nation medical facility, she said. In the case of Camp MK, that would be Romanian-run Constanta County Hospital.

As for working here, Cook said it’s an awesome responsibility. “We provide seamless medical care to the regionally aligned forces.”

Lt. Col. Michael Crawford, the protestant chaplain at Camp MK, said he regularly counsels and consoles a number of Soldiers who experience stress and sadness, as a result of being separated from loved ones.

As for guidance, he said he offers two bits of advice to Soldiers: “We must be intentional about our spiritual growth and communicate to loved ones back home.”

Growing footprint

Camp MK and NSTA are in the midst of growing their facilities and capabilities.

“Lots of expansion is planned,” said Col. Benjamin Jones, commander, U.S. Army Garrison, Ansbach, Germany, which oversees the two sites.

David Tiedemann, director of operations and plans at Camp MK, said steps to increase the U.S. military capability in Romania and Bulgaria are ongoing.

Great place to work

Permanent personnel at both Camp MK and NSTA said their stay has been rewarding, despite separation from family on 18-month unaccompanied tours.

Smith, who lives in nearby Constanta, Romania, said that there are Roman ruins in the city, three shopping malls and a swank Black Sea resort in the area. Further afoot in Romania is Dracula’s castle, she added.

The local people are very friendly as well, she pointed out.

Sibilla said Bulgarians are equally friendly to Americans and there’s no shortage of sightseeing opportunities near NSTA.

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