One of the first projects I worked on when I returned to SoA was in Moldova. It was designed to help the local population while providing a tangible counter narrative to the negative propaganda that the Socialist party was spreading. Today, I want to tell you a little more about that project and why it was so important then, and now.
Moldova, a small country with a patchwork of cultural and political ties, declared its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. Since then, it has enjoyed a positive relationship with the United States and the EU, including a State Partnership Program with the North Carolina Guard spanning 20 years. Dragoon Pioneer, a US-Moldovan exercise focused on increasing the compatibility of the two countries’ engineer units, has taken place without incident until this year, when the pro-Russian Socialist political party blocked the road as American troops arrived in Moldova. The Socialist party was trying to create an opportunity to paint joint US-Moldovan training exercises in a negative light, even saying that the ongoing training exercises represented a de facto NATO invasion of the country.
While Dragoon Pioneer is not a NATO-affiliated exercise, US Army combat engineers, a US Civil Affairs team, and Moldovan soldiers wanted to find a way to show the local population that these training events were opportunities to benefit all Moldovans – military and civilian.
Through conversations with local leaders, they identified a heavily-trafficked road in dire need of repair that led to the Tiganesti Monastery, a venerated pilgrimage site in Moldova. The road, used by the community to reach the monastery and the surrounding green space, suffered from disrepair, made passage to the monastery difficult, and became especially dangerous during rainstorms that would cause the road to washout. The Church, a pillar of the community, is the most trusted institution in the country. The US and Moldovan soldiers knew that improving the road that led to the monastery would be a visible demonstration to the community of the benefit of the US-Moldovan partnership for years to come.
Because the US engineers were already in Moldova and would only be there for a short period of time, the work had to begin immediately in order for it to be completed in the allotted timeframe. After hearing about the need, and its time sensitive nature, Spirit of America moved quickly to provide the resources that would allow the road improvements to be finished before the US troops departed Moldova.
I traveled to the construction site with Lt. Gen. Hodges, Commanding General of United States Army Europe, the 2d Cavalry Regiment leadership, and Lt. Col. Bilbo, then US Defense Attaché to Moldova, to see the progress that was being made. It was incredible to see Americans from the US’s Regimental Engineer Squadron, 2d Cavalry Regiment and North Carolina National Guard, and Moldovans from their Ground Forces’ Codru Engineer Battalion working side by side to meet their training objectives while at the same time meeting the needs of Moldovan citizens.
Projects like these that improve the countries’ interoperability, strengthen alliances and counter Russian-backed narratives are critical to improving security in Moldova and Europe more broadly.