173rd paratroopers assist Slovenian partners during ice storm
POSTOJNA, Slovenia – Paratroopers from the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) arrived in Slovenia early on the morning of Feb. 11 with generators bound for Postojna, a city hard hit by an ice storm thought to be the worst natural disaster here in the last 100 years.
“It was clear early on that there were massive power outages through the country,” said David Burger, chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Ljubljana. “We worked closely with the U.S. military and our State Department colleagues in Washington, marshaling resources from across the U.S. Government to deliver the much-needed generators to affected areas.”
The mission started late Friday night when an order was given for the paratroopers to pick up power generators that were part of the Department of Defense’s Security Cooperation Agency’s Humanitarian Assistance Program located at Leghorn Army Depot in Livorno, Italy.
The 173rd “brings a significant logistical capability south of the Alps in the form of our transportation, maintenance and materiel handling capabilities,” said Lt. Col. Jon Beale, commander of the 173rd Brigade Support Battalion and the mission commander for the delivery. “We responded within two hours and had our drivers and operators assembled in a convoy ready to go.”
“We were able to respond very quickly – as a forwardly positioned brigade, we can respond to America’s interests faster than anyone,” said Beale. “We’re here and we’re integrated into the community. The relationships that we build – not only with our host community, but also our sister units across the border, such as we have here with the Slovenian armed forces, allowed us to react more rapidly than any other organization could in this particular mission.”
Once the American paratroopers arrived in Slovenia, much of the urban power grids were coming back on line, but many of the rural villages surrounding Postojna were still without power, with the Slovenian media reporting 12,000 residents without power and an unknown amount with intermittent power.
“There were some terrible days in Slovenia, almost the whole part of Slovenia was affected and we were forced to seek international help and I have to say that the international community was quick to respond,” said Branko Dervodel, deputy director of the Slovenian Ministry of Defense’s Administration for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief.
What the American paratroopers “did for Slovenia was really a sign of the very good cooperation that we have with the United States and the ministry of defense here – it’s really a friendly relationship,” said Dervodel during remarks to the American soldiers. “This donation which you brought with you will really help a lot of households in Slovenia and also helps to deepen our relationship – many thanks to the United States of America.”
Among the members of the U.S. delegation was a team of power-generation equipment repair soldiers who inspected each piece as it was unloaded.
“Before we left to deliver the generators, we teamed with Slovenian army mechanics and we all took a look at the generators in order to make sure that they were compliant with the local grid and ready to go,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 George Annan, a ground support maintenance technician with the 173rd BSB.
Just hours after their early morning arrival, a joint convoy of 173rd paratroopers and soldiers from the Slovenian armed force’s 1st Brigade rolled out to a rural valley close to Postojna barracks, an area which the Slovenians had coined “generator valley” because of the increasing number of machines brought in to relieve power issues.
“The level of professionalism of the Slovenian armed forces has been outstanding,” said Beale. “The convoy and distribution plans were concise, coordinated and effective. There was great coordination as we partnered with [Slovenian armed forces] logisticians and civilian protection professionals while we delivered these generators … this was a concerted effort.”
Beale said he was also impressed with the coordination done by Slovenian partners to prepare for their delivery by having equipment operators and electricians prepped and on hand as they arrived.
“During the drops, our mechanics worked with local mechanics to train them on each piece – giving them familiarization with each generator and sharing with them safety information,” said Annan. “It’s our job to make sure they knew how to operate each piece.”
At each location, the Slovenian people came to the street see what was going on, a curiosity perhaps that these soldiers, some not yet a year back from Afghanistan, had seen while deployed to other locations.
“So often when we?’re in a combat environment, it’s difficult to see what the direct impact from your actions are, but here in Slovenia it was very easy to see the impact that we were making to each community that we went to,” said Beale.
“The people were very welcoming and smiling, they seemed to appreciate what we were doing,” said Spc. Torrence Ferguson, a power-generation equipment repairer with Company B, 173rd BSB.
This operation was not the brigade’s only recent engagement with the Slovenian armed forces, as members of the brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment conducted range training this past winter with the Slovenian 1st Brigade in Slovenia and as part of a combined exercise in Hohenfels, Germany, in November. That training relationship will continue with more combined training scheduled for April 2014.
Beale remarked that being stationed in Italy allows for broad interaction with American allies. He said the 173rd is “one of the only places that you can do that – having this face-to-face interaction. Our forwardly positioned nature allows us to be here and to make an impact every day – whether it be our operations in Italy, doing joint training with our NATO allies, or further developing our relationships with Slovenian partners.”
The U.S.-Slovenia partnership was highlighted by both sides.
“When two nations train together, deploy together and help each other when they need it – they become more than just good friends or allies – they become family,” said Slovenian armed forces Lt. Col. Frac Kalic.
“This was a phenomenal opportunity for us and we look forward to our opportunity to work with our Slovenian partners - we’ve got a lot we can learn from them,” said Beale. “They’re absolute patriots and they love their country – we were very fortunate to be able to assist them and be part of this mission.”