CAMP SHELBY, Miss. – Romania’s 72nd Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Defense Battalion trained with the Alabama National Guard’s 31st CBRN Brigade at Camp Shelby in April, completing a two-part combat readiness exercise.
“Right now,” said Romanian Master Sgt. Bogdan Cojanu-Popescu, “we see combat threats, like in the war in Ukraine on our border. We see the Russians are suspected of using chemical weapons, and we have to be prepared to meet these challenges if they come into our territory.”
The first part of the readiness exercise, Guardian Mask 21, took place near Sighișoara, Romania, and familiarized Alabama Soldiers with Romanian weapons, vehicles, terrain and procedures. The second, Carpathian Dragon 22, was conducted at Camp Shelby April 24-30 to provide Romanian troops with U.S.-centric training.
“The end goal is to help incorporate interoperability between two CBRN forces,” said Sgt. Maj. William Godshall, 31st CBRN brigade operations. “That way, if we end up on the same battlefield together, we could conduct missions together and supplement each other. We could send Soldiers to operate with them and they could send Soldiers to operate with us.”
Capt. John Bailey, commander of the 440th Chemical Company, one of the 31st CBRN Brigade’s subordinate units, said both phases focused on mission readiness. But with the Russia-Ukraine war, Carpathian Dragon provided even more relevant warfighting urgency.
“The scenario we built, we specifically geared toward a Russian theme, with the idea of what if something were to happen over there,” Bailey said.
Romania shares two borders with Ukraine and looks across the Black Sea to Ukraine, Russia, and Russian-occupied Ukrainian land.
For almost three decades, the Alabama National Guard and Romania have been partners under the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program.
In an April speech, Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, called the SPP a significant factor in Ukraine’s success fending off Russian offensives.
“You don’t have to look far to see the impact of the SPP,” Hokanson said. “The conflict in Ukraine highlights the interconnectedness of the security environment.”
Ukraine and Romania entered the State Partnership Program in 1993 — its inaugural year — pairing Ukraine with the California National Guard and Romania with Alabama.
Guardian Mask and Carpathian Dragon are just two of the hundreds of military-to-military engagements that have taken place in the 29 years since.
Both covered a wide range of CBRN Soldier skills. Romanian and Alabama Soldiers conducted missions as a single, seamless unit.
Bailey said the exercises showcased the strengths of the SPP.
“As the National Guard, we work hard to really ensure that we’re always ready to integrate with our NATO allies and defend peace wherever it’s needed,” he said.
“Partnerships are what make us the National Guard. It’s who we are, whether that’s partnerships with our parent services or partnerships with foreign nations or partnerships with local authorities in civilian communities across the country,” he said. “It opens the eyes of the Soldiers to understand that there are other ways to do things out there, and it really creates innovation between the partners.”
Cojanu-Popescu agreed, adding that the innovation cuts both ways.
The U.S. and Romanian armies shared ideas they will implement for future operations.
“We learned so much from it,” Cojanu-Popescu said, “and afterward, we got to express our opinions about it and I gave them some ideas to improve communication.”
Godshall said the 31st CBRN Brigade plans to continue ramping up the speed and intensity of state partnership engagements, as the readiness of NATO allies and U.S. service members to operate in Eastern Europe is an immediate priority.
“This made us better,” Godshall said, “and it helps build the relationship, but it also helps build toward further, even larger exercises. I think that if we continue to have engagements like this, that we could just drop in and operate side by side and integrate at a moment’s notice.”
For Cojanu-Popescu and his team, these exercises and the capabilities they build are more important than ever.
“After this, I trust more in myself,” he said. “I will never be the same man. And now I know that if we were to be in that kind of situation to work together to confront an enemy, we will be successful because we broke language barriers, social barriers and equipment barriers.
“The U.S. troops know how to operate our equipment; we know how to operate their equipment. And if we are to work together, no matter what the situation, we will be successful,” he said.