Taszar Air Base
Taszár Air Base is located in the south-central region of Hungary, approximately 35 kilometers northwest of the city of Pécs (pronounced Paych).
The U.S. flag was lowered on NATO's first military base in former Warsaw Pact territory as the American presence there came to an end in a ceremony 30 June 2004. The overall successes of the Peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo and the smaller number of soldiers required there eliminated the need for the Taszar facility.
Taszar was once a Soviet airfield during the Cold War, but it became the primary staging post for peacekeeping forces coming and going into the Balkans in December of 1995. It was the closest airfield to the Balkans capable of landing strategic aircraft and was an excellent ground hub as well, with good rail and road links and a superb work force. The base then evolved into the first site for unmanned Predator aircraft missions, a rest and recreation site for Balkan based soldiers, a training ground for armored units and a home base for aircraft that made reconnaissance and bombing runs to stop ethnic-cleansing in Kosovo. In more recent times it hosted the largest special operations exercise in Europe and served as the site for training the Free Iraqi Forces that would go on to help liberate Iraq.
When the United States Army began planning for a potential deployment to Bosnia-Herzegovina, just before Christmas in 1995, senior leaders and planners soon realized that they would require a secure environment from which to stage. The sites chosen to support this Intermediate Staging Base (ISB) operation were the neighboring Hungarian towns of Kaposvar and Taszar, Hungary.
U.S. Air Force and Army units from across Europe and the United States combined forces from 16-21 November 1995, to survey the condition of four airfields in Hungary for possible use by U.S. forces should they be sent as a peacekeeping force in Bosnia. Bases surveyed were Fokto, a former Soviet helicopter base; Taszar, an active Hungarian Air Base with three Mig-29 squadrons; Sarmellek, a former Soviet Air Base, now a civilian airport supporting some military; and Kiskunlachaza, a closed Soviet Mig base in caretaker status.
Taszar was selected as the site of the initial staging base for a variety of reasons. The area is a multi-nodal transportation hub where road, rail and air transport converge. There is also a robust road network in all directions, and the area offers multiple railheads. Perhaps most significantly, Taszar offers the closest airfields to Bosnia and Croatia capable of landing strategic aircraft such as C-5 Galaxies and Boeing 747s.
An ISB offers tactical and operational commanders an opportunity to gather information on the area of operations and finalize plans for deployment. It also gives units time to redistribute and finalize their accompanying loads. The ISB in Taszar is the last stop before deploying into Bosnia. There, personnel are reunited with their equipment, which arrives in the ISB by rail. Units can draw ammunition in the ISB, and they have the opportunity to conduct limited central issue or direct exchange as well.
Escorts were on call 24 hours a day to guide units through deployment and redeployment processes. Once a unit hit the ground, the escorts made sure that it completed all processing checklists. It usually took 4 days to process units that were deploying into Bosnia and 7 days to process redeploying units.
The marshaling area was a staging area for wheeled vehicles. Its capacity was 650 wheeled vehicles, depending on their size and type. The marshaling area assumed control of all vehicles in the ISB. Washrack activities, maintenance, and issuing of water and meals, ready to eat, also were conducted at the marshaling area. There were 20 bays available to units for organizational maintenance or other unit activities. MILVAN's were stored in a designated container-holding area while awaiting movement or inventory. The duties in the marshaling area were nonspecific and could be accomplished by personnel in any military occupational specialty (MOS).
When the first US Army elements arrived in Taszar, in November 1995, no US facilities existed. Instead, units were spread out over 20 locations in leased factories and warehouses. The name of this original organization was US Army Europe (Forward), and the first commander was Lieutenant General John N. Abrams, who held the command until October 1996. During the first two months of the deployment, November and December 1995, approximately 25,000 soldiers passed through Taszar. One year later, in February 1997, the name was changed to the United States National Support Element (NSE).
The Intermediate Staging Base [ISB] is located on a Hungarian Air Force Base in Taszar Hungary. Units move through here on their way into Bosnia. Rail movement to Bosnia ends at Taszar, where heavy vehicles are moved to the RSB on trailers. At the ISB is the LSA (Life Support Area) where the famous BEER TENT is located, as well as the PX and over-sized dining facility. Units moving in or out of Bosnia must process through the ISB.
The Life Support Area(LSA) is the "tent city" where troops stay while passing through the Intermediate Staging Base (ISB). It features a large dining tent, base exchange, movie tent (showing two movies each night), a chapel, medical tent, a gymnasium, and the Morale, Welfare, Recreation (MWR) tent. Soldiers can eat a variety of fast food items (Taco Bell, Burger King, Frank's Franks, Anthony's Pizza, etc.) at the MWR tent. There are also several video games, pool tables, ping-pong tables, a T-shirt shop, and a barber shop. Soldiers can order a beer at the MWR tent each night until 10:00 PM (11:00 PM on weekends). A special morale tent is located at the LSA. Soldiers can use the phones in this tent to make two 15-minute calls to the United States, twice a week, at no charge.
Taszár Airfield is where the majority of personnel live and work. The Army headquarters building is located near the main runway. The soldiers live in barracks with a dining facility located next door. A barber shop, small post exchange, laundry service, morale tent (featuring a big screen TV with videos, gymnasium, and pool tables) and are located in this area. MiGs once flew from Taszár, but the most common aircraft now are U.S. Air Force C-130s, with occasional visits from C-5 Galaxies, C-141 Starlifters, and C-17s, bringing supplies and mail. In addition, the Air Force unmanned reconnaissance vehicle, the Predator, flies missions from Taszár.
Taszár Main is the home of the higher headquarters, the National Support Element (NSE). It features a medical clinic, dining facility, exchange, and an MWR tent. The NSE is located in a building that once served as a headquarters for the Hungarian Air Force. Thus, it is probably the only US Army building anywhere in the world to have MiGs on display in front of it. The USO is located at Taszár Main. They offer a variety of videos that soldiers can borrow, and also have several computers connected to the Internet so that soldiers who do not have Internet access can send e-mail to their friends and family back home.
The deployment and redeployment supporting OJE was possible because of the logistics support features of the ISB. During OJE and initially for OJG, tenant logistics units in the ISB provided units with a final check before assuming the mission in TF Eagle and a valuable post-operations check for units completing their mission. After the redistribution of materiel accumulated during OJE, services and transshipment requirements were significantly reduced and contracts for Kaposvar North and South, the Beet Factory (the headquarters for the 37th Transportation Group) and other contracts were terminated or modified. The 21st TAACOM continued to support movement control and convoy service centers from the central region through the NSE AOR to Guardian Base, the principal logistics base in TF Eagle, and the ISB served as a transportation node on the theater line of communication (LOC) with a 1000-person bed transit facility. The right sizing resulted in Taszar transitioning from a staging base to a support base. As OJG ended, Taszar was ramping down to a population of fewer than 600.
Once, communist pilots flying the Soviet-made interceptors would have unquestionably challenged--with force--any American aircraft flying near Taszar Air Base, Hungary. But the Iron Curtain unraveled with the Soviet Union's breakup. United States and Hungary are worked together to reach a common goal: maintaining a fragile peace in the former Yugoslavia.
During two years of Operations Joint Endeavor and Joint Guard, Taszar can claim Europe's largest airlift mission since World War II. Normally, three or four C-130s make daily two-hour hops to Taszar from Ramstein AB, Germany. But during rotation surges, activity jumps to 20 aircraft - including jumbo commercial charters - that deliver some 4,000 US replacement peacekeepers and leave with those returning from the box.
Taszar, an active but run-down fighter base, housed the composite 4400th Operations Squadron (Provisional), one of the largest groups of deployed Air Force people supporting Operation Joint Endeavor, the massive NATO-led Balkan peacekeeping mission. Nearly 20,000 Army troops used the base as a staging area on their way to northern Bosnia and Herzegovina for a mission that could last up to a year.
Most of the Bosnia-bound Army troops arrived in Hungary by rail or bus, but nearly all their vehicles, ranging from tanks to ambulances, hitched rides on Air Force C-5s, C-141s, C-17s and C-130s. Along with the vehicles came thousands of pallets stacked with the dietary staple of rapidly moving infantry and armored units: meals, ready to eat and bottled water.
Besides its airlift role, Taszar also houses Predators, unmanned aerial vehicles that help ensure Bosnia's warring factions comply with the Dayton Peace Agreement. Often mistaken as drones, remotely controlled UAVs use electro-optical sensors to transfer high-resolution video to NATO ground commanders. Synthetic aperture radar provides the 28-foot-long aircraft with through-the-clouds surveillance capability. And infrared devices detect heat sources.
On November 25, 1995 the first US forces arrived at Kapsovar and in Hungary. On December 5, all the NATO Foreign and Defense Ministers endorsed IFOR. In March, 1999, Hungary officially became a member of NATO. Just months after their induction, on May 23, over 20 F/A-18s arrived from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina serving Combined Joint Task Force Noble Anvil, part of NATO's Operation Allied Force.
During World War I, there was no air base at Kapsvar, but after the armistice of 1918, with Serbian troops moving in to occupy parts of southern Hungary plus Croatia and Slovenia to form the new state of Yugoslavia. The Hungarian (now a Republic) government decided to form at Kapsovar the 1st Air Group. Captain Andor Kammerer commanded the group, and its mission was to keep under observation the troop movements of the Serbians along the military demarcation line and to cover the Hungarian Army Corps defending the southern border.
In March 1919, the short-lived post armistice Hungarian Republic collapsed, and power was handed over to a Communist regime. One of the reasons for the Communist takeover was the moral shock to Hungary from losing so much territory in the south to Serbia, in the east to Romania, and in the north to the new state of Czechoslovakia.
By 1920 the Commune had collapsed and Hungary was forced to sign the Treaty of Trianon (this is the Hungarian Versailles Treaty). Under the terms of this accord, Hungary's armed forces were limited to 35,000 men, and they were not permitted to produce military aircraft or an air force. As a result, many experienced pilots left Hungary.
On September 1, 1929, Taszar airfield was dedicated and opened. As stated, no military action was allowed under the treaty. Thus, in order to enforce the treaty's conditions a so-called Entente Control Commission provided oversight. Taszar was at this time designated a postal station and flight training station. It was supervised by a "chief inspector" who in turn came under the authority of the Ministry of Commerce, the Section for Civil Aviation (LUH). In 1928, Hungary signed an agreement which provided that its own oversight authority would report all its activities to the League of Nations. Once this agreement was signed, the Entente Control Commission oversight of military aviation stopped. This situation improved the ability of Hungary to increase the training of its still forbidden air force.
In 1929, with LUH already receiving part of its funds for pilot training from secret Defense Ministry funds, the decision was made to develop "training bases" in the provinces. In Somogy County, the "Somogy County Aero Klub," based at the new airfield, began the training of both pilots and mechanics. The personnel trained were members of both the airfield maintenance crews. The previously mentioned 1928 agreement also allowed for the construction of civilian aircraft, hence both Hungarian and German-built Udet planes were used for training. By 1931 Kapsovar was the base for the secret 3rd Low-Level Reconnaissance Squadron. It was commanded by a "chief inspector."
In 1938, with the "Bled Agreement" between Hungary and the Little Entente (Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia), Hungary was allowed to rearm. This also meant that they could develop their Air Force in the open.
Hungary fought on the Axis side during World War II, the chief reason being to regain and hold the territories lost through the Trianon Peace Treaty ending World War I. Many of these were regained between 1938 and 1941. A second reason was Hungary's vulnerability to Nazi pressure and the threat of a communist takeover of the democratic government.
At the end of World War II, Hungary ended-up in the Soviet sphere of influence. By this time, bombing had destroyed it. The first important step involving Taszar airfield was the question of the property on which it was located. In 1946, the Piarists turned to the new government. Some was parceled out to peasant owners. The rest was used for a new airfield.
In 1949 the new airfield, which is still in use today, was constructed using conscripted labor. The new runways were hard-topped and became the base of the Hungarian 50th Fighter Regiment. On September 1, 1958, the Defense Ministry made the decision to reorganize the structure of the Hungarian Air Force. It was at this time that the 31st Fighter Regiment was ordered to form. Later, the 31st Fighter Regiment would become the official successor of the 50th Fighter Squadron. As military technology developed, so did the complexity of organization and readiness. Independent training within the 31st began in 1959. A quantum jump in the quality of training was the introduction of the MIG-19 in 1959, and the introduction of the MIG021 in 1962.
In 1989, momentous changes in the international structure had an affect on Taszar. The collapse of communism came in Hungary once again. This was followed by the withdrawal of Hungary from the Warsaw Pact and the exit of "temporarily stationed" soviet troops after 45 years. On November 1, 1991 the 31st was renamed the 31st Kapos Tactical Air Regiment, this being formed by joining the 31st Air Regiment and the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron.
In 1992, the South-Slav Civil War broke out inside the former Yugoslavia. After a three-year long, and very violent conflict, centered especially in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Dayton Peace Agreement was initialed in Dayton, Ohio on December 21, 1995. In this agreement, the United States pledged to send 20,000 troops as part of Implementation Force (IFOR) to enforce peace in Bosnia.
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