BULBOACA, Moldova, - The soldiers of Moldova's Company A, 22nd Peacekeeping Battalion, cleared the first hurdle on the way to Level Two NATO peacekeeping certification today after undergoing an internal evaluation of their skills conducted by officers from the Moldovan Ministry of Defense.
Dubbed "Peace Shield 2010" by the Ministry, the evaluation and preparation for it, took place at Moldova's Bulboaca training base just east of the country's capital Chisinau. A team of North Carolina Army National Guard Soldiers spent the preceding two weeks helping the unit of 125 Moldovans hone their skills in preparation for today's evaluation but also for an evaluation to be conducted by NATO peacekeeping personnel in 2012.
"It has evolved into a more professional-type army," said North Carolina team leader Army Maj. Jerry Baird. Baird has come to Moldova several times since 2000 to work on projects as part of the North Carolina-Moldova relationship under the State Partnership Program.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Department of Defense-sponsored SPP paired former Soviet republics and state National Guard organizations in order to foster democracy in the newly-independent nations. What began as purely military engagement has blossomed into civilian-to-civilian relationships as well producing projects in the arts, education, business, good government, emergency management, health care, agriculture and other disciplines.
North Carolina began its partnership with Moldova in 1995 and codified it with the signing of a bilateral agreement in 1999. The state also enjoys a second partnership with the Republic of Botswana, a nation in sub-Saharan Africa.
Baird says he has seen a number of positive changes in the Moldovan soldiers over the years and, in particular, in the past two weeks. He said not only do they display a confident air of professionalism, but leadership now pays more attention to quality-of-life issues like sanitation, personnel safety, medical care and the overall treatment of Moldovan troops.
Those issues are important when it comes to the making of a professional army because they may be critical factors for conscripts deciding whether to stay in the service as a professional Soldier, added Baird.
"In the beginning, service felt like it was mandatory," said Baird. "Now, it feels like it's an opportunity to be patriotic."
The North Carolina contingent pointed to the case of a conscript who had English-language skills but no prominent role in his unit. NATO peacekeeping standards require radio operators to speak some degree of English. The radio operator for this soldier's platoon had no English skills, but leadership had initially been reluctant to swap him with a conscript because of his status as a contracted, professional soldier.
In the end, the conscript was made the radio operator, a case, the Americans said, of putting the right man in the right job regardless of his contract status.
The conscript performed very well, which led to a boost in his motivation and a decision to stay in the army and become a professional soldier. The North Carolina team repeatedly noted his professionalism and how it aided in the superior performance of all the soldiers in his platoon.
Moldova's Minister of Defense Vitalie Marinuta visited Bulboaca during the evaluation and said he was pleased with what he saw. He noted the Ministry is investing much time and effort in preparing the 22nd Peacekeeping Battalion for future peacekeeping missions and hopes that other Moldovan units will eventually obtain NATO certifications as well.
Marinuta noted the Moldovan National Army has begun to put more contracted, professional soldiers into the Battalion with aim of maintaining the unit's level of proficiency by keeping soldiers trained in peacekeeping skills in its ranks. The idea is not to have turnover that purges the unit of hard-earned corporate knowledge.
"We have a legislative basis starting with the 2000 law on deployment for peacekeeping operations," said Marinuta. "In case we have a political decision, we have the possibility to deploy a contingent for peacekeeping operations."
The North Carolina National Guard and the Moldovan National Army plan future events of this kind designed to continue to help the Moldovans along the road to the next level of certification. Though the Moldovan soldiers are preparing for its 2012 evaluation based on NATO standards, it does not imply that Moldova will soon join the Atlantic alliance.