CINCU, Romania – Imagine sweltering heat, skin sticking to your uniform, humidity causing sweat to pour out from under your helmet and stinging your eyes as you squint uneasily through a brutal mid-day sun.
For Army National Guard Soldiers from the 240th Engineering Company based in Las Vegas, Nevada, this sounds like just another summer drill weekend or annual training. One significant difference this time around is the venue: it has shifted over 6,000 miles to the east.
With a snowy backdrop shrouding the Carpathian mountain peaks that jut up 7,000 feet, the cozy village of Cincu, Romania hosts this year’s iteration of the 240th EN annual training. Less than three weeks earlier the temperature was in the 50s; now it consistently reaches 85. Unfortunately, it is not a dry heat. The rain comes suddenly, without much warning, dumping torrential amounts of water in short periods.
“We took over a few engineering projects from members of the Alaskan National Guard who were here in support of exercise Resolute Castle 2019,” said 1st Lt. Johnathan Lee, platoon leader with the 240th EN. “Rain has slowed everything down and the mud around our multi-purpose center project is not normal mud. It’s basically a tough clay.”
The 207th Engineer Utilities Detachment based in Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson, Alaska, recently completed their Resolute Castle rotation, handing over several projects to the 240th EN near the end of May.
Resolute Castle is a multi-national, joint exercise with real-world outputs of completed construction projects that build and enhance training capabilities around Eastern Europe.
“Yes, the rain has slowed us down, but it has been great working together with our Romanian counterparts on this multi-purpose center,” said Lee. “They are tireless workers. They use slightly different tactics and construction techniques, but we learn from each other and work well together.”
These comments force us to remember that Resolute Castle is not just about completing engineering projects. The focus is on working together as a team.
While this is not the unit’s first time in Europe for annual training, this particular iteration marks the first time the 240th EN has been stationed on a foreign-country-controlled post. Cincu is run completely by the host country with Romanian civilians and Romanian Land Forces.
“We work by their rules. The Romanians are the project leads,” said Lee. “Unlike Hohenfels, Germany, here, we are working for them. While there have been challenges due to weather delays and language, together we have overcome these and learned to work better together.”
One of the powerful things about working through challenges is the simple fact of going through them together. In this joint, multi-national training event, Resolute Caste provides the rare opportunity of teaming with civilians and Soldiers who don’t always speak the same language.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Terrence Vaughan, the engineer warrant officer for the 240th EN, shared that they may not speak the same, but they can still work and laugh together.
“Hard deadlines made it difficult for us to get equipment to the various project sites,” said Vaughan. “But the Romanians sent us a gentleman named Raul to help us out. He was a maestro with the backhoe loader. He did a bunch of work, then he would leave.”
“Then he would come back, work some more and leave again,” said Vaughan. “This went on several times and we never knew when he was coming or going.”
“Finally, we figured out that we could just look over the hill and watch for his backhoe litter,” added Vaughan. “It became a running joke as our whole team would shout ‘Raauuuuul!’ as he crested the hill. A couple minutes later he would arrive with a smile.”
“We really couldn’t have done our jobs without him.”
Aside from the multi-purpose gym facility, Nevada National Guard members also teamed with Romanian Land Forces to improve a Moving Armored Target System. The MATS is a field range target system that supports tactical exercises in detecting and firing upon moving armored targets under simulated combat conditions.
The previous drainage system proved inadequate in removing all the rainwater from the area. Clay and mud formed as a result, and vehicles could no longer successfully navigate through the site.
Over the previous three weeks, Soldiers with the Alaskan National Guard dug the site out with excavators, delivered a layer of rock to cover the clay and mud, then handed the project over to the 240th EN.
“The road leading up to this area needed major repairs due to significant erosion,” said 2nd Lt. Vincent Owyong, the 240th EN project manager for the MATS site. “In addition, the rail bed needed reparations such as a French drain and riprap rock, and we’re building a gabion wall to support it.”
A gabion wall is a retaining wall tied together with mesh wire and filled with stones of various sizes. At this site, the wall is stacked two levels high with each level adding about four feet in height.
Riprap rock refers to any man-placed stone or other materials used to reinforce areas against the damaging effects of erosion. At this site, erosion and clay were bountiful.
To combat the non-stop rain, U.S. Soldiers and Romanian Land Forces collaborated to operate heavy engineering equipment such as steamrollers, dump trucks, backhoes (thank you, Raul) and graders. The results are impressive.
“The natural soil is just filled with caked clay and water that is very difficult to walk through,” added Owyong. “There was no way to drive heavier vehicles through it. The layer of riprap has really increased the traction through the whole area.”
The engineers used another technique called “swamp-roading” to forge their way through severely water-logged terrain. This is the same technique used when constructing roads through swamplands.
“When you need to provide your own stability, you push all your superior soil toward the front,” said Vaughan. “Using this swamp-roading technique was the only way we could get all our vehicles out to the MATS site.”
In Cincu’s near future, when heavy vehicles drive over a smoothly paved, nicely irrigated road and see the superbly constructed gabion wall of the MATS site, they will have Soldiers from the 240th EN to thank.
However, any of those Nevada National Guardsmen will quickly tell you they could not have completed the MAT site, connecting road, nor the multi-purpose center without the help of their new Romanian friends.