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.”

Spc. Ruben Hernandez, a paratrooper with the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) helps to load a donated generator at Leghorn Army Depot, near Livorno, Italy, Feb. 10, en route to Slovenia to assist the Slovenian armed forces after an ice storm. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. A.M. LaVey/173 ABN PAO)

Spc. Ruben Hernandez, a paratrooper with the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) helps to load a donated generator at Leghorn Army Depot, near Livorno, Italy, Feb. 10, en route to Slovenia to assist the Slovenian armed forces after an ice storm. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. A.M. LaVey/173 ABN PAO)

“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.”

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