DANILOVGRAD, Montenegro -- U.S. servicemembers and Montenegrin armed forces members kicked off Medical Central and Eastern Europe Exercise 2010 today by planting trees and paying a nearby river some extra attention.
More than 100 servicemembers from U.S. Air Forces in Europe, U.S. Army Europe and Marine Forces Reserve arrived Sept. 7 in Podgorica, Montenegro to participate in this tenth annual Partnership for Peace Joint Chiefs of Staff-sponsored medical training exercise.
The Airmen, Soldiers and Marines joined the 18 logistics, services, communication and support personnel already in place working along side the Montenegrin armed forces, and will be joined later by armed forces personnel from nine central and eastern European countries.
The environmentally-focused community day took place in Danilovgrad, which allowed the American servicemembers to work together with the Montenegrin Army and interact with the Montenegrin community. A group of approximately 60 servicemembers split up to tackle two different projects.
The first group of servicemembers went 20 km north of Danilovgrad to Topolovo, Montenegro and planted 1,250 black pine trees on the hillside as part of a replenishment project following a recent forest fire.
"It's been a real help to have the Americans here as we reconstruct our forest," said Goran Koljensic, head officer of the Montenegrin Forest Service for the Danilovgrad district.
The Topolovo region is prized among Montenegrins for its health and wellness attractions and each of the servicemembers who planted trees received a letter of thanks from the Ecological Society of Zeta-Spruz.
"This action will improve the environment for all animal and plant life," said Dr. Miodrag Djurovic, a local ecological expert.
Meanwhile, the other group traveled up and down the river Zeta removing garbage from the water's surface and trimming trees along the riverbanks.
For Tech. Sgt. Tonya O'Toole, a medical technician from RAF Lakenheath, the ride down the river reminded her of her childhood in the Cumberland Gap between Tennessee and Virginia.
"We're from two different parts of the world but the people are fundamentally the same," said Sergeant O'Toole.
Tech. Sgt. Jose Libunao, also from RAF Lakenheath, agreed.
"You can meet friends anywhere in the world whether you speak the same language or not," he said. "We all care about the environment so I was just glad to help out."
Finally, after the work was completed, both groups returned to Danilovgrad where the local residents prepared traditional fish soup and fried fish for all as a show of gratitude.
"Montenegro is such a lovely country," said Lt. Col. Jeff White, Expeditionary Medical Squadron commander from RAF Lakenheath. "As an American Airman I love the opportunity to assist the local population and help make the area even more beautiful," he said.
Opening ceremonies for MEDCEUR 10 are scheduled for Sept. 10 followed by classroom seminars and live exercises simulating a variety of peace support operations such as crisis response and disaster relief.
For more information got to www.usafe.af.mil/medceur.asp and www.odbrana.gov.me.
(Editor's note: Information for this story was provided by Marine Lance Cpl. Jad Sleiman.)