Garrison employee rocks host-nation job with help from Freddie Mercury

Oana Copaceanu stands in front of the Army Support Activity-Black Sea headquarters at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania, April 28. The Army hired Copaceanu to serve as the host-nation advisor here in April 2021 and she’s met challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, massive multinational exercises, and the current operations in support of NATO efforts. She’s the “human bridge” for relations between the United States and the Romanian government.

MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIR BASE, ROMANIA — When it comes to keeping up relations between Americans and Romanians here each day, we can all thank Freddie Mercury and Jim Morrison for the employee who helps make it possible.

Oana Copaceanu became the host-nation advisor for Army Support Activity-Black Sea, Romania, in April 2021. As host-nation advisor, she serves as the human bridge between her country and the United States, advising the ASA-Black Sea garrison commander, US units, the Royal Air Force, and others deployed here. She is also a consistent point of contact for Romanian politicians, civic leaders, and the local Romanian population.

Now a year into her service with the garrison, Copaceanu’s role as both host-nation adviser and public affairs representative is expanding thanks, in part, to a garrison teeming with deployed troops from several different countries.

That is a challenge she welcomes.

“I want to make a difference,” she said. “That’s really important to me.”

She recently helped organize a soccer tournament in the local area with US, Romanian, UK, and other teams that drew more than 400 players and 200 spectators. She worked alongside the RAF, Red Cross, and other Army Soldiers to build a first-of-its-kind Easter Egg hunt for about 65 Romanian children and their families.

She also eases the burden of mundane tasks for permanent party staff like registering cars, sorting out utility bills, and finding housing. Each day, more than a few people walk into her office and ask questions only she, as the host-nation expert, can answer.

Break on through

Copaceanu grew up in Constanta, the largest port on the Black Sea and the oldest continuously inhabited city in Romania. In 1989, at age 12, the Romanian Revolution changed her life and the lives of millions of other Romanians forever. In the chaos of the following years, the country evolved around her, becoming part of NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007.

She evolved as well, learning to speak English by first listening to music by Queen, the Doors, and others on cassette tapes. She gained knowledge by reading through motorcycle magazines and watching documentaries narrated by David Attenborough.

“I had this little dual cassette player and would play the cassettes over and over. I would write down and spell out how I thought the lyrics went to all their songs in a notebook. That’s the primary way I learned English,” she said.

As her English skills grew, so, too, did her curiosity. She finished high school, studied in Bucharest, then earned a degree in English from the University of Constanta, writing her final thesis about Saul Bellow’s last novel, Ravelstein.

She had stints with a German shipping company in Hamburg, the Constanta county council, and served as a volunteer for the European voluntary service in Poland. Before landing here some years later, she served as a translator and simultaneous interpreter for a US Army exercise in 2005 before landing here.

“I’ve always been curious,” she said. “I think that’s helped me grow into every role I have had in my career, and I think that helps the organization in positive ways.”

Busy times at MK

Host-nation relations have been crucial during several extensive military exercises and the COVID-19 pandemic, helping American officials understand host-nation measures and policies.

Today, with more than 2,000 troops on the ground and daily operations buzzing, Copaceanu said the busy pace of the garrison has allowed her to grow her professional portfolio.

“Oana’s role with the garrison has become more important as our team wants to know what the community is saying and how they feel about what’s happening here at MK,” said John Strader, garrison executive officer.

Busy garrison operations have also allowed her to grow her public affairs skills, writing more stories and advising on issues with local and regional media members. She’s connected Garrison Commander, Lt. Col. Jeremy McHugh, with the local community through personalized video messages in English and Romanian.

And without songs like “We are the Champions” and “Riders on the Storm,” she wouldn’t be here.

“Oana has helped open up doors and connected us more closely with our Romanian partners,” McHugh said. “Without her on our team, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish many things we do from day to day.”