In September, I was invited to Romania to observe the training being conducted by units of the Romanian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MAI) and Ministry of National Defense (MoND). The training was to be performed in conjunction with American forces and in preparation for Romania’s participation with NATO forces at the Trident Juncture joint training exercise. Romania is an ally who has deployed troops in support of American forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo, is a NATO partner, a host to several American bases, and is a point of regional strategic confidence on the Black Sea.

Romania is also host to the U.S. European Command’s Joint Task Force East (JTF-East) at Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) Air Base. MK Air Base is located in a region of Romania called Dobrogea, and is approximately 15 miles from Constanta—Romania’s largest port, located on the Black Sea. Nearby at the U.S. Naval Support Facility Deveselu, a portion of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) System is watching the horizon. NATO is currently constructing a multinational divisional headquarters expected to be operational by late 2016.

The new NATO facility will be a geographically separate ancillary to the current NATO Force Integration Unit (NIFU) facility. Romania has accommodated a growing number of U.S.-led training exercises in Romania to promote multinational force communication and evolution, as well as show of force exercises to deter Russian belligerence. There is a truly warranted and valid need for this defensive posturing in Romania by America and NATO: Russia has become increasingly aggressive, and such exercises help to safeguard the alliance’s eastern flank against further aggression.

I arrived in Bucharest, Romania’s capital on the 17th of October. Unfortunately, I learned almost immediately that I would need to make a change of plans, as those who invited me had disappeared. On the very day of my arrival, the (now, former) Prime Minister Victor Ponta and a headhunter’s bounty of the staff of the ministries I was invited by were formally arrested on a cornucopia of corruption-related charges. Their combined formal indictment came on the 15th, but I was off the grid in Transnistria by way of Moldova, and I missed the headline.

Regardless, I would have ignored it. Corruption is extensive in Romania and those in power often walk away shortly after the charges are presented. As the charges mounted and appeared to be in line with my assumption, I headed off to Arad for a joint U.S./Romanian exercise, then to Geamăna for our SOFREP Halloween Special Report, to the Transfăgărășan highway, off the map to Bucharest, and to pursue other adventures.

The Romanian ex-prime minister was still in denial throughout my stay. I left Bucharest in the early morning hours of the 31st of October, and as I was checking out of my hotel on the far edge of Sector 5, I caught glances of a fire shown on the lobby television. I asked the clerk what was going on, and she said dismissively, “I’m not sure. Maybe some kids started a fire.” It was not until I was back to the U.S. that I realized the impact of what I briefly witnessed on my way out of Romania.

A few days passed. I kept up communication with my friends in Bucharest about what was happening, and I learned that Victor Ponta had finally decided that it was time to resign. It was the 4th of November. His resignation followed after approximately 20,000 people gathered peacefully in the streets night after night after the day of the fire to protest government corruption.

The drive of the Romanian people to make a stand did not come from Victor Ponta, and his political career is simply a deserving causality of the anti-corruption protest. The protests were in response to a nightclub fire that claimed the lives of 49 people and injured approximately 180 more. It took this tragedy to expose further flaws in the current Romanian government. This unfortunate incident, according to voices in the streets, was due to negligence brought on by way of widespread corruption.