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Oregon Army Guard chemical officer helps keep Kosovo safe

By 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment | Oct. 21, 2020

CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo – A team of Italian Army Hazmat soldiers approaches a building storing chemical waste and Kosovo Security Forces CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives) company dons protective gear as 1st Lt. Robert Boyer follows, making notes of any hazards at one of Kosovo's largest energy plants in Obilic/Obiliq on Oct. 1.

As the safety officer role for the Kosovo Force Regional Command-East deployment, Boyer, an Army chemical officer organic to the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oregon Army National Guard, visits abandoned and functioning factories around Kosovo and recommends how to improve chemical safety.

"There are things with toxins that are of legitimate use in our society, and when they go to waste, you need to know what to do with them," said Boyer, who received his bachelor's degree in urban planning from Western Oregon State.

Boyer has visited nearly a dozen factories and plants throughout Kosovo. He makes recommendations like adding emergency response plans, removing brush around chemical storage facilities for firefighter access and labeling containers.

By visiting these locations as the subject matter expert, he increases KFOR RC-E commander's awareness of environmental safety concerns and efforts to circumvent hazards as part of KFORs mission to maintain a safe and secure environment in Kosovo.

On site visits, Boyer works with organizations such as the Ministry of Environment and the NATO advisory liaison team.

"Visits to the facilities and factories are critical because it holds these companies accountable for some of the hazardous material stored in these locations," said Lt. Col. Joseph Bolcar, NATO advisory liaison team.

"The Hazmat teams conduct an inspection and submit a report to the ministry of environment, which is like our EPA, to help them find other ways to dispose of it. The ministry of environment is the entity that pushes initiatives."

Bolcar attends the meetings to give command emphasis as a NATO representative to get involved parties to fix the problems.

"Boyer is a subject matter expert really, and working with KSF certainly helps them grow as a nation," said Bolcar, a Cavalry officer organic to the New Jersey Army National Guard. He said it was good to collaborate with the Italian Regional Command West soldiers.

"They can work together to figure out the way ahead. Hats off to them doing this thing because it helps them figure out what they need to do and find the right answer to the problem."

Members of Kosovo Security Forces, the lead for the factory visits, work closely with Boyer.

Since most of the factories and storage facilities are owned by private companies that don't have the resources to dispose of the chemical waste without harming the environment, the KSF helps repackage and dispose of hazardous waste.

"Many factories are from 1991. The war started, they closed and the factories are in the same situations since then," said Sgt. Besnik Lokaj, security inspector for the Kosovo Security Forces CBRNE company. "It is important because if these chemicals burn, they will have to evacuate the whole city. We are committed to protecting the citizens and the environment."

Lokaj said the U.S. and Italy have helped provide CBRNE training and equipment to enable them to deal with some of the hazardous waste.

Boyer has been inspired by the relationships he has developed during the mission and plans to continue to work in the chemical field.

"Chemical helps chemical, so it was easy to build relationships with them and get my foot in the door to understanding the current situation," said Boyer.