Vali Iancu says he delights in bringing people together for a good time.
The Scottsdale business owner may never arrange for a more rewarding get-together than one this month that sent a medical squadron from the Valley's Arizona Air National Guard unit to meet a few thousand people in his native Romania.
Iancu worked for almost two years with friend Dave Kempson, a Guard lieutenant colonel who lives in Ahwatukee Foothills, to organize a 2 1/2-week mission that delivered about $1.3 million in medical supplies and other humanitarian aid to the poorest regions of the eastern European country.
The troops also provided basic medical exams and treatment for many Romanians.
“I have a deep feeling of accomplishment and gratitude for what my American friends were willing and able to do for my other friends” in Romania, Iancu said after the Guard squadron returned last week from the trip. “I hope this will lead to us having closer cultural ties.”
Iancu, founder and owner of a Scottsdale-based computer software consulting company, escaped Romania almost two decades ago when it was under the rule of a Soviet-style Communist dictatorship. The country is still struggling to bring its economy and society out from under the dark cloud of that era, he said.
For Iancu, the Guard's aid project was fulfillment of a longtime desire to send a gift back to his homeland from the nation where he has found freedom and prosperity.
For the more than 40 members of the mission team, it was “a phenomenal opportunity to change people's lives” for the better in a place where health care facilities are often primitive, Kempson said.
Through contacts made by Kempson, Iancu and other members of the Guard, troops were able to arrive in Romania with three semitrailers full of surplus medical equipment from U.S. military operations in Europe, plus more from a private international medical charity.
They also brought 20,000 pairs of eyeglasses donated by the Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation in the Valley, dozens of hearing aids, dental products, surgical supplies, enough medicine for immunizations for about 1,200 youngsters, and children's toys.
Wherever the squadron went, hundreds awaited them excitedly.
“I felt like a rock star. They had to have security to help us get through the crowds,” said medical squadron commander Patrick Aiello, a Paradise Valley eye surgeon.
The scenes in clinics and hospitals often became emotional as Romanians who had not been able to hear or see adequately for years cried tears of joy after receiving eyeglasses or hearing aids, said Guard Capt. Paul Aguirre of Scottsdale.
“I think a lot of us would say it was the best mission we've ever had, and we would want to do more of this,” Kempson said.
Despite 12- to 14-hour workdays and long trips to remote towns and villages, it was invigorating duty for American troops in a foreign land, said Maj. Steve Geesling, a Mesa resident.
“A lot of people there don't have any money, so they were bringing us baskets of apples to show their gratitude. They were so happy to see us there,” he said.
Aid missions tend to have indefinite results, but not this one, said Capt. Darcy Swaim of Mesa. “We came back knowing we spent every moment possible doing all we could for as many people as we could,” Swaim said.
“It wasn't just a touchy, feel-good kind of thing. There were lives we changed dramatically,” he said. “It was the kind of great stuff people need to see the military doing.”