CAMP BUTMIR, Bosnia and Herzogovena - Col. Nick Ducich, commander of the California Army National Guard's 79th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, paid a visit to Camp Butmir in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, April 24, to meet with Cal Guard Soldiers stationed there and for an office call with NATO Headquarters - Sarajevo Commander Brig. Gen. Robert Huston.
The 79th IBCT is the command element for Kosovo Force (KFOR) Multi-National Battle Group – East (MNBG-E). The Soldiers of the 79th IBCT are deployed to Kosovo on a nine-month peace and security mission. Each KFOR rotation provides Soldiers for NATO Headquarters - Sarajevo to oversee Camp Butmir, support the Bosnia and Herzegovina training mission, and provide essential services on the camp for the European Union Force Althea (EUFOR Althea) peacekeeping element.
After a 90-minute helicopter flight from Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, over snowcapped Balkan mountains, Ducich sat down with California National Guard Soldiers stationed at Camp Butmir to hear about their mission.
"In a round table conversation format, the Soldiers of the California National Guard were enthusiastic in describing their performance of their diverse assignments for NATO - Sarajevo and the Balkans Area Support Team," Ducich said. "Their commitment to the mission, the camaraderie among a small element, and their dedicated professionalism were my takeaways from the group discussion."
Six Cal Guard officers and non-commissioned officers assigned to the 79th IBCT are stationed at Camp Butmir, providing such diverse functions as NATO Advisor for Training and Standardization, logistical coordination with EUFOR, postal operations, and administration for the headquarters.
"We are so far removed from the actual KFOR mission, the fact that Col. Ducich came up here showed that we're all working together, different pieces of the same Balkans mission. It was motivational," said Capt. Mike Scott, a Cal Guard Soldier who serves as NATO Headquarters - Sarajevo joint logistics officer and liaison officer to EUFOR.
"At a professional level, being able to work with different nationalities and learn how they do their jobs has been a great experience," Scott said of his mission. "I'm a logistics officer but I've never worked at this level—working with NATO at a strategic level in a multinational environment."
Capt. John Kuczmanski is a Cal Guard member who serves as a NATO advisor for training and standardization. "We are helping the armed forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina build up a capable army," he said.
Kuczmanski added that he is the only American in the building where he works in downtown Sarajevo, and that he works alongside Hungarians, Austrians, Italians, Turks, Slovenians and Bosnians.
"We work with numerous nationalities," he said. "It's great meeting everyone from different cultures, especially when we Americans are such a small group here. It's an interesting and dynamic work environment."
NATO carries out a number of specific tasks to assist the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina in reforming its defense structures, working on counter-terrorism and apprehending war-crime suspects. Bosnia and Herzegovina became a NATO partner country in December 2006 and is focusing on introducing democratic, institutional and defense reforms, as well as developing practical cooperation in other areas.
Staff Sgt. Rowena Becerra, a Cal Guard Soldier who works as a NATO Headquarters Sarajevo supply sergeant, said a highlight of her tour has been the opportunity to see the country on morale-and-welfare trips offered every weekend.
She's visited northern Bosnia, Josip Broz Tito's military bunker and skied at the site of the 1984 Winter Olympics.
"It's a great country to visit with lots of history," Becerra said. "It's green and beautiful—the rivers, the mountains. It's a beautiful country."