National Guard troops keeping the peace in Kosovo received praise and gratitude from
home as part of a leadership visit, April 19-23.
The governor of Wyoming, along with the top military officers for the states of Wisconsin and Wyoming, witnessed first-hand the efforts National Guard Soldiers have been performing as part of their year-long deployment in support of Operation Joint Guardian, a United Nations peacekeeping mission.
"I'm here to tell you that what you are doing here really matters," said Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar , adjutant general of Wisconsin. "You have brought your combat experience and leadership skills to Kosovo and what you are doing is very important."
Dunbar was accompanied by Wisconsin State Command Sgt. Maj. George Stopper.
Soldiers from both states serve alongside more than 700 National Guard Soldiers from 28 other states, as well as seven other nations, as part of a NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo known as KFOR . Their mission is to promote a safe and secure environment and ensure freedom of movement for citizens throughout Kosovo.
Most of the approximately 200 Wisconsin National Guard troops in country are part of the Multi-National Battle Group East (MNBG E), led by the Milwaukee-based 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade headquarters and includes Soldiers from the 32nd Military Police Company; Company F, 2nd Battalion, 238th Aviation Regiment ; and Detachment 1, Company B, 248th Aviation Battalion. Also part of MNBG E is approximately 20 Soldiers from the Wyoming National Guard's Detachment 2, Company B, 777th Aviation Support Battalion.
"Everyone's job differs," said Staff Sgt. Danielle Miller, a legal assistant from Wisconsin working at KFOR headquarters in Pristina. "This has been a very unique experience working with all the different nationalities. I consider it an opportunity of a lifetime."
MNBG E, along with MNBG West, ensures safety and security for Kosovo residents, performing a wide variety of missions in a supporting role to the Kosovo Police force and European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX). Whether it's airlifting critical supplies like food and water to remote outposts, conducting vehicle checks or sharing best-practice methods with Kosovo law enforcement agencies, Wyoming and Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers have proven their value to their multinational partners.
"They do a really good job," said German Army Maj. Gen. Erhard Drews, KFOR commander. "I appreciate what they are doing," adding that the Soldiers do an excellent job balancing the force protection mission with deterrence.
"The job that these Soldiers are doing here is absolutely critical," said Wyoming's Reiner. "It's an important mission to keep this region of the world safe and secure, and for our Wyoming Guard Soldiers to come over here and participate in this is a big deal and it makes a difference."
"Everyone back home in Wyoming and all the states should be very proud of the work that's being done here," Mead asserted. "I think it's just a great opportunity to visit these guys and see how they're doing."
In addition to performing their missions, many of the Soldiers deployed to Kosovo are completing military education requirements. Approximately 40 soldiers participated and graduated from the Warrior Leader Course for junior noncommissioned officers April 11, and another class is scheduled to graduate April 30. The command hopes to graduate 120 by the end of the group's tour. Officers in the command are also participating in the Intermediate Level-Education course, and a Battle Staff NCO course for intermediate and senior NCOs is expected to start later this summer.
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Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, left, adjutant general of Wisconsin, talks to Soldiers assigned to Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, as part of an April 20-22 visit to the region to view operations. Wisconsin is one of 30 states participating in the year-long deployment in support of the United Nations peacekeeping mission called KFOR, or Kosovo Force. KFOR is charged with providing a safe and secure environment, as well as freedom of movement, to all Kosovo residents. 157th MEB photo by Capt. Joy Staab
A Soldier with the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 32nd Military Police Company provides gate security during a March 21 force protection exercise at Camp Bondsteel. Wisconsin, along with 29 other states, is providing Soldiers in support of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Kosovo known as KFOR, which provides safety and security, as well as freedom of movement, to Kosovo resident. 157th MEB photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jim Wagner
Spc. Stephen Minutolo, left, an administrative assistant assigned to the Multinational Battle Group East's command section, dresses a simulated wound to Staff Sgt. Rontaye Butler, administrative non-commissioned officer in charge of Headquarters Company, 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, during a March 21 exercise at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo. Wisconsin, along with 29 other states, is providing Soldiers in support of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Kosovo known as KFOR, which provides safety and security, as well as freedom of movement, to Kosovo resident. 157th MEB photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jim Wagner
"If we can help them get those requirements done while they are here it's a win-win for all," said MNBG E Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Shields from Wisconsin. "Not only is it good for the Soldier, the Army and the Guard, but it also benefits the family and employers back home because the Soldier doesn't need to be away from home again to accomplish the training."
NATO has been leading a peace support operation in Kosovo since June 1999 in support of wider international efforts to build peace and stability in the area. Originally fielded by active duty units like the 82nd Airborne Division when NATO was the primary peacekeeping force in the region, the Army National Guard has taken a prominent role in the KFOR mission as Kosovo and European Union institutions assert themselves.
Over time, as the security situation has improved, NATO has been gradually adjusting KFOR's force posture towards a minimal presence - essentially, a smaller force progressively relying more on flexibility and intelligence with fewer static tasks, according to NATO officials.
"The intent is to teach them to take care of and provide for themselves," said Lt. Col. Jon Russell, MNBG E, operations officer from Wisconsin. This includes training and mentoring Kosovo security forces, conducting engineer inspections and educating medical personnel.
According to Kosovo native Ardian Nrecaj, who has been an interpreter for MNBG E since 1999, the Army National Guard forces joined the peace keeping effort in 2003 when the Pennsylvania Army National Guard took over from the active Army.
"National Guard members brought to Kosovo not only their military skills to keep a safe and secure environment, but they brought also their civilian skills, knowing that they are not only Soldiers but teachers, cops and other [types of workers]," he said. "With these extra sets of skills, they helped in training Kosovo institutions to receive more responsibility from KFOR."
The National Guard Soldiers currently assigned to MNBG E are more than halfway through their year-long deployment in Kosovo, and are expected to return in the fall.
"You're halfway there," Reiner said "Stay focused, stay safe, and make sure the second half is just as good as the first half."