My goal for the week following the trip to Turkey was to catch up on administrative matters. It still costs me a great deal to use the DTS and APACS systems, but I am learning fast to become more proficient with it. While in Turkey, I caught some kind of virus, which I readily passed onto the rest of my family that was with me on that trip. Nevertheless, on Saturday we went to visit the Spanish city of Avila, which also serves as the capital of the Avila province. Avila was founded in 5th Century BC and is located approximately 120 km Northeast of Madrid. The city is famous for its city walls, which remain intact since the 11th century, and it is also one of the cities with the highest ratio of churches to its inhabitants in Spain.
On Saturday night, I had a chance to experience the Spanish Army Military Hospital emergency room, as I took my one-year-old there. One of the surprising things about the Gomez Ulla Military Hospital that I discovered, is that it actually serves mostly the community that it located in, and there are only a few military personnel that still use its medical services. Apparently, two years ago the hospital was incorporated into the civilian public health care network. Although it is still mostly manned by military personnel, its patients are the citizens of the Madrid’s districts of Latina and Carabanchel.
I got a chance to become intimately familiar with the Emergency Room there. The following day I took my one-year-old there again, and this time he was admitted as an in-patient. For three days I was able to experience the level of care given to the little patients of the Military Hospital, and I have to admit that it was great.
Thursday, following my extended stay at the Military Hospital, was quite busy. I found out that in order for me to Observe and Control (OC) the Bagram exercise with the Polish Army, I need to attend the “Train the Trainer” session in Poland in order to get certified as an OC. After receiving a verbal authorization for the trip I coordinated for my 6 day visit to Poland. That same day I went to the Conference sponsored by the Spanish Ministry of Defense. The conference was about the Effects of Arab Spring in the North of Africa on the European Union and the NATO, and the material was presented by the Spanish SEGENPOL, or the General Secretary of the Defense Politics. Alejandro Alvargonzález San Martín has been nominated for that position by the new Spanish president only a week earlier, yet he was able to present the current Spanish policy towards the countries affected by the Arab Spring in a very informative and well researched manner. Everyone who was anyone in the Spanish Defense community was present at the conference, to include three representatives of the American Office of Defense Cooperation. Following the conference there as a social which gave me an opportunity to expand my personal network and trade business cards with Spaniards.
On Monday, I received a security briefing at the US Embassy in Warsaw, and I departed via train to Miedzyrzecz, the home of the Polish Army 17th Mechanized Brigade. This unit provided the bulk of the OC personnel for the certification process of the deploying unit. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of professionalism displayed by the American instructors from the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC). Given an extremely short notice they were able to put together a training package to prepare the Polish OCs for the upcoming training that was both valuable and pertinent. I was also impressed by our Polish partners, who received the training entirely in English – yet they actively participated in classes, asked questions and contributed to the overall quality of training through their valuable insights and experience. The facility designated for training and the reception by the Polish Army was outstanding as well. On Wednesday, at the conclusion of the day’s training I organized a historical trip for the American crew to the German bunker system that was supposed to protect Berlin from the Soviet advance. The bunkers are connected by a network of 100 kilometers of underground tunnels complete with an electric train, they have all the support facilities, and were designed to be almost entirely self sufficient, with their own water system, plumbing, heating and electricity generation. These fortifications were designed to be manned by 21,000 military personnel and are the second largest in Europe.
The weekend following my return from Poland I went to visit the Royal Palace in Madrid. The Palace was first constructed in 9th century by the Muslims and was designed as a defensive castle. Destroyed by fire in 1734, it was rebuilt by the Spanish King Felipe V and designated as the Royal Palace. The Palace is still officially listed as his Majesty the King residence, although the King no longer lives there; the palace is used for hosting official events though. It is also open to public as the part of the Spanish National Heritage.
Today is a big day for me. In August I shipped my motorcycle to Spain from New Jersey, I shipped it at a personal expense. It arrived to Barcelona in September, and I was very naïve to think that to pick it up from customs would be as easy as sending it to Spain. Two months and couple of thousand of Euros later I finally collected all the documents necessary to pick my bike up from the customs. It turns out that registering the bike in Spain is a task in itself, and it extremely time consuming. So today, I will finally pick up my Harley from the shop that worked on it to ensure that it meets the Spanish technical requirements. I should be able to finally pass the technical inspection, and if everything goes right I should even be able to finally register it. Although I don’t keep my hopes up to high, since when it comes to Spanish bureaucracy, nothing ever goes right.
I am proud to report that I finally got my go ahead to audit the Spanish Major’s Course for a month – I am supposed to start attending the Infantry Academy in Toledo this week pending an official request from the Army Attaché in Madrid.