Story and photos by
Senior Airman Kristof J. Rixmann
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
OTOPENI AIR BASE, Romania — Strengthening the relationship between the U.S. and Romania is a primary objective exercise Carpathian Fall seeks to accomplish.
Strengthening this relationship between the two NATO allies requires a free-flow exchange of ideas and tactics. It is more than that, however.
The relationship is founded on trust and the ability to depend on one another should a situation demand it.
On a smaller scale, this trust is achieved through international camaraderie established by the people representing their respective nations during exercises like Carpathian Fall.
Romanian air force 1st Lt. Nicula Alin, C-27J Spartan pilot and simulator instructor, is an example of this idea.
Throughout Carpathian Fall 2019, Alin was quick to introduce himself, to smile and laugh. With English almost indistinguishable from that of a native speaker, Alin made himself approachable and it was clear he was someone people liked to be around.
In 2011, after spending one year in the Romanian air force academy, Alin travelled to the U.S. for the first time to begin studying at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. In addition to obtaining a civil engineering degree, this is where he would master the English language and learn about American culture through immersion.
Alin was one of 18 international students in a graduating class of 1,300 cadets.
“It was my first time outside the continent (of Europe) and I was by myself but, you know, I really enjoyed the program,” Alin said. “Everything was organized so well. I had a sponsor family that took care of me before the school year started at the academy and it felt like everything was taken care of — it was really nice.”
Alin said he loved his time in America while studying at the academy but, with a smile, admits times he felt perplexed by the nuances of the English language.
“I remember there was a little bit of a culture shock,” said Alin. “One of the first few weeks in America I was just walking around, visiting places, touring Colorado, and I remember sometimes as I would walk past a total stranger they would say ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ or ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ So, you know I would stop and let them know how I’m doing and what I’m doing. I was so surprised when they would just keep walking past me without stopping to listen. I remember thinking ‘What’s happening? That’s rude!’ I didn’t realize that was just an expression used to greet someone.”
Alin describes another memorable culture shock moment, this time at the academy.
“Now that I think about it, I guess there were a lot of culture shocks,” said Alin. “This is pretty much the funniest story ever. In basic training, the cadre would say ‘Hey, sound off!’ and I would not say anything. So, he would say ‘What are you doing? Sound off!’ So, I would not say anything. He took me aside and said ‘Ok, seriously, why are you not saying anything?’ I told him I was doing what he asked me to do. My sound was off, I was not making any sound. I had no clue that meant to say something loudly. Everyone, including me, was laughing so hard once I realized what it actually meant.”
While studying at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Alin’s easy-going personality allowed him to make many lasting friendships within his graduating class of 2015, most of which are now U.S. Air Force pilots.
Following graduation, Alin travelled back to Romania where he would spend one year at Boboc Air Base for additional pilot training.
Alin earned the credentials required to be a pilot in the Romanian air force after this one year program.
He has since been stationed at Otopeni Air Base, where he will occasionally run into friends and classmates from his graduating class at the U.S. Air Force Academy during exercises such as Carpathian Fall.
Besides seeing old friends, Alin explained the importance of Carpathian Fall.
“Carpathian Fall is a great exchange program,” said Alin. “It gives us an opportunity to exchange experience and insight. The flight decks on a U.S. Air Force C-130J and a Romanian air force C-27J are pretty much the same.”
Alin sees many similarities between the two aircraft so what he learns aboard the C-130J Super Hercules he can apply almost directly to his own aircraft.
Outside of Carpathian Fall, more generally, Alin said the strong allyship between the U.S. and Romania is important because Romania is a globally valuable strategic point.
“As tensions rise among world powers, it is important for NATO to maintain a balance,” said Alin. “Having these strategic points all over the world creates that balance.”
With 300 hours of flight time logged and a promotion to the rank of captain in early 2020, Alin said he couldn’t imagine doing anything else other than being a pilot for the Romanian air force.
In 2017, Alin got married and said he was happy to see many of his U.S. friends come to his wedding.
Alin said he’s proud to have served in both the U.S. Air Force Academy and the Romanian air force academy.
“I want to give a shout out to the U.S. Air Force Academy, though,” said Alin. “It’s the best academy in the world. I tell my friends all the time, there’s nothing like it.”
As Carpathian Fall 2019 comes to a close, it seems clear that individuals such as Alin play a role in strengthening the U.S. – Romanian partnership through their international camaraderie and friendship.