Elements of the U.S. European Command, the Tennessee National Guard and the Naval Reserve joined Bulgarian armed forces for Exercise Cornerstone '98, from 30 June to 6 Aug 1998. This joint and combined engineering exercise involved renovation of the Regional Hospital in Trun, Bulgaria. This exercise was conducted in the spirit of Partnership for Peace Program, and as part of the state partnership program between Tennessee and Bulgaria.
Elements from the U.S. Naval Forces in Europe joined the Albanian Ministry of Defense Armed Forces for Exercise Cornerstone 2001, 2 April - 31 July, 2001. This multi-national exercise, held in Albania, was conducted "in the spirit of" the Partnership for Peace program. Forces from Bulgaria, Greece, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Romania and Turkey participated.
Cornerstone 01 represented the first in a series of engineering exercises currently planned to be conducted by the United States in partnership with the southeaster European Defense Ministerial (SEDM). This exercise will be conducted jointly by forces of the U.S. European Command, South-Eastern Europe Brigade (SEEBRIG) and Albania Ministry of Defense. The Marines' mission was to provide security for the personnel and millions of dollars worth of equipment at the construction site for all of the nations involved in the exercise. Seven platoons of reserves provided two weeks of duty each. A two-day overlap between rotations for incoming company to be trained and briefed by the outgoing Marines enables a turnover where all the billets and positions are filled in an easy transition. Taking part in international exercises often brings new experiences for many of the reservists.
In the war-stricken Balkans, Marine reservists from 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines and 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, joined forces with Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Turkey and the U.S. Navy Seabees for Cornerstone 2001, an international engineering exercise from April through July.
The name "Cornerstone," meaning the first building block of a structure, set the scope and mission for the exercise, which was to build a two-mile national highway. The highway will allow for unimpeded travel from north to south. Training on task force/coalition organization and management was conducted in the execution of road repairs/construction to an Albanian national roadway in the vicinity of the Milot River Basin, North of the city of Lac, Albania. This Joint multinational force completed the repair and construction of a 2.7 km road along the Mati River.
Cornerstone 2001 was a complex operation involving five countries plus the US. During the early months of 2001, the cooperation between nations has evolved and the bonds of friendship have grown so strong, that it now appears to be an operation of just one country. As a result of this multinational unity and their ability to overcome the daily challenges of such a large-scale operation, the road project was moving along at a much faster pace than ever imagined -- the job was finished 30 days ahead of schedule. The project, which was originally scheduled to be completed 31 July, had a completion date of 26 June.
It takes a lot of manpower and heavy equipment to tackle such a job. Over one hundred pieces of heavy construction equipment, including graders, rollers, dump trucks, excavators, and front end loaders made the long trip from many different countries into the small nation of Albania. Over 450 personnel were in camp at any one time, about 150 are directly involved in the building of the road and the other 300 personnel are here to support the operation in a variety of functions. These support roles include medical, force protection, food service, chaplain's, admin, supply, and mechanics.
During the exercise, Marines had the opportunity to train with Albanian soldiers. During weapons training, the two forces swapped weapons at the rifle range Marines got to fire the AK-47 and the Albanians got to fire the M-16A2. Both forces had a great time and even competed in a shooting match. The Marines also interacted with the Albanian soldiers while they stood post at the construction site. Many of the Marines took the opportunity to learn the native language during the long shifts they shared with the Albanian soldiers. During each two-week tour the Marines also participated in a cross training exercise involving combat engineers, electricians, motor transport and infantry. The weapons and demolition training is held at the Albanian Commando Camp in Zheja, a few miles from the capital city of Tirana. While half of the forces provided security back at the construction site, the other half went through an enduring 13-hour weapons and high explosive training cycle
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