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East/West: U.S. Naval Base Builds Contacts With Eastern Countries

By Wendy Schatzman

Norfolk, Virginia; 31 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- At one of the world's largest naval bases, at Norfolk, Virginia on the east coast of the United States, activities are underway involving the navies of several Central and East European countries.

Mike Lucarelli, a Political Military Affairs officer with the NATO Supreme Allied Command Atlantic (SACLANT), which is headquartered at the base, says specific activities and funds are in place for ongoing Partnership for Peace (PFP) programs.

Lucarelli said that two of the three countries invited to join NATO early next year, Hungary and Poland, have permanent representatives in Norfolk. He said that three other countries involved in PFP programs -- Bulgaria, Slovakia and Estonia -- also have permanent representatives at the base.

The PFP program was established in January 1994 and goes beyond just dialogue and cooperation by inviting PFP members to take part in practical activities. These activities are intended to enhance the ability of military forces from the East to operate with NATO in various fields. Lucarelli says these include "peacekeeping, search and rescue, and humanitarian operations."

To secure common goals with PFP members requires that the Alliance adopt a step-by-step approach in achieving inter-operability at many levels so that operations can be conducted with partner nations. A major emphasis has been placed on military operational language training which Lucarelli stresses is much more important at this time, in his words, "than the fact that many PFP nations have ancient Soviet-era equipment." He said the most important thing for PFP nations at the moment is to be able to, in his phrase, "talk-NATO." In practice, that means being able to discuss military operations in English.

Lucarelli says significant progress is being made.

"We've come from the days of 1994 when PFP first started of basically being able to be in the same exercise together of not too much complexity to today being able to focus on training staffs from partner militaries to operate with senior high level staff of NATO forces."

Lucarelli expressed a desire for more participation by Russian forces in PFP efforts. He said that there is significant interaction at present. But he says that "given the size of the Russian military we wish the Russians would participate more in PFP exercises and activities."

Lucarelli said that funding is available for PFP nations who want to participate in exercises and activities at Norfolk.

"These can be bilateral programs between the U.S. and those partner nations or other (exercises that are) in the spirit of PFP activities between U.S. state and individual partner nations."

Polish commander Krzysztof Przesniak gave a positive reaction when asked about his experiences at the Norfolk naval base. He had some advice for those wanting to take part in exercises and training there: "Study English on your own and encourage your wife and children to do the same." He added that "being a part of this is a wonderful experience."