KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Over the course of almost 13 years of war in Afghanistan, the relationship has flourished between U.S., Australian and Romanian intelligence personnel who have cycled through deployments to Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan.
Lt. Col. Matt Gill, a senior intelligence officer from 1st Cavalry Division deployed to Regional Command South, has a unique perspective concerning the Romanian contribution in the intelligence arena in Kandahar province since 2002. He was here when it began, and has also recently seen the Romanian contingent in his section leave for home.
Gill’s first deployment to Kandahar was with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, as an intelligence officer. One day his boss approached him with a special request that caught him by surprise.
“I remember sitting in the wooden shack that we had built, and my boss walked in and said, ‘Hey Matt, we’ve got some Romanians coming in,’ and the first thing that went through my mind, which was in my DNA, was that the Romanians used to be part of the Warsaw Pact,” Gill said.
“I’m originally from Texas but I grew up in Europe,” Gill said. “There was NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and Romania was a part of that pact.”
Gill said he got over his initial shock and went down to the airfield with one of his noncommissioned officers to pick up the Romanians. “The C-17 landed and none of us knew what to expect,” Gill said. “I think that both parties just stared at each other. Most of the Romanians barely spoke English, and I certainly didn’t speak Romanian. We just shook hands, got them settled in and not a word was exchanged. We just didn’t know what to do with each other yet.”
After a short time, Gill said, he found out one of the Romanian soldiers spoke English very well and actually had an affinity for the U.S., which offered a bridge of communication that Gill needed.
“Our first meeting we just got to know each other. We didn’t talk anything of intelligence whatsoever, we just talked to each other,” Gill said. “It really diffused all of those preconceived notions that I had grown up with. It was good to see that the shroud of the Cold War didn’t exist anymore.”
Gill said the Romanians immediately began showing interest in operations around the air base.
“They had a desire to see where they fit into the picture of Kandahar,” he said.
Kandahar in 2002 was a very different place than it is now and Gill said he believes there was an identity crisis amongst the Romanians in terms of who they were as intelligence professionals and how they were going to contribute.
“Almost 13 years later, their intelligence community is very much Romanian, it’s their own, they’ve chosen their own path forward, and it’s been very rewarding to see professionally,” he said. “Seeing that small five-man intelligence contingent develop into a massive contribution committed to ISAF, and the friendships that have lasted, is really amazing.”