This is a special Labor Day for Vali Iancu. The Scottsdale business owner is seeing the fruits of his labor to show his native Romania that his adopted country, the United States, "is not just good at war, we are good working at peace as well.’’
Today, he will be at the Va lley’s Arizona Air National Guard base as the 161st Air Refueling Wing’s Medical Squadron leaves for Romania with a team of about 40 health experts and more than 130,000 pounds of donated medical supplies and other humanitarian aid.
For 2 1 /2 weeks, the squadron will travel to some of the poorest regions of the Eastern European country.
They will bring new equipment to hospitals and medicine to remote towns and villages.
They will school Romanian health workers on modern medical technology and care methods.
Iancu said he wants Romanians to witness the U.S. military "helping people instead of shooting . . . It’s a great opportunity to get our countries politically and culturally closer.’’
The idea began forming after Iancu, through his computer software consulting business, met Ahwatukee Foothills resident Dave Kempton, chief of computer and communications sys- tems for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard.
Almost two years later, their proposal had worked its way through the military and government bureaucracies of the two countries.
Early this year, everything appeared set for Operation Faith, Hope and Charity to be carried out under the Air National Guard’s Partnership for Peace program.
Then came the war in Iraq. The aid project was delayed for months as the U.S. military focused on the conflict.
The wait hasn’t dulled the squadron’s enthusiasm.
"It’s a unique mission for us,’’ said Capt. Paul Aguirre, a Scottsdale resident and acting public affairs officer for the unit.
The squadron’s projects usually involve work in military clinics or classroom training.
"This (mission) is hands-on, out in the field, where our people can really put their skills to work. They feel like they’re going to be real ambassadors for the U.S.,’’ Aguirre said.
"This is the reason I joined the military, to go and help people, not to blow up (their countries),’’ said Chandler resident Sara Squibb.
Staff Sgt. Squibb, a microbiology student at Arizona State University, will give vaccinations in Romania.
Maj. Steve Geesling, a Mesa insurance agency owner and military medical logistics specialist, said he anticipates the most fulfilling experience of his 13 years in the Guard.
"It’s a different world there. When you’re a patient in one of their hospitals, sometimes you have to bring your own food and bed linens. . . . It’s neat to get a chance to help those people,’’ he said.
Retired Paradise Valley surgeon George Streza, one of several civilians joining the mission, will get to work in the land of his ancestors.
He’s already considering a second trip to take a group of surgeons to train Romanian physicians and nurses in modern trauma care.
"It’s pretty primitive over there. A little education could do a lot of good,’’ he said.
Romanians are still struggling to emerge from the stifling Soviet-style dictatorship that ruled over them until the late 1980s and left grinding poverty in its wake.
"You can’t believe how destitute some of them are. . . . We can’t do miracles but we can give them things that will make a big difference,’’ said medical squadron commander Patrick Aiello, an ophthalmologist.
Iancu had to escape Romania in 1985 to find the freedom and opportunity that enabled him to build a multimilliondollar company in the Valley.
Now he said a military jet full of cargo carries his dream for a future in which
such prosperity isn’t out of reach within his homeland’s borders.