CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo – The Virginia National Guard’s 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Headquarters ended its mission as Task Force Saint Lo and the mission command headquarters for NATO Kosovo Force Regional Command-East Nov. 2.
During a transfer of authority ceremony with the Indiana National Guard’s 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, the 116th IBCT cased its unit colors, signifying the end of its nine-month mission. The 76th IBCT, mobilized as Task Force Nighthawk, then unfurled its unit’s colors, beginning its support of KFOR’s mission. The 116th’s rotation was the 30th of U.S. military forces based at Camp Bondsteel.
NATO KFOR troops conduct peace support operations contributing to a safe and secure environment for all people in Kosovo while political dialogue continues between Kosovo and Serbia.
The KFOR commander, Maj. Gen. Angelo Ristuccia, thanked Col. Christopher Samulski, outgoing RC-E commander, for his commitment and duty to KFOR.
“Your actions and contributions have been invaluable and will have lasting impacts for years to come,” said Ristuccia.
Samulski spoke about the friendships members of the 116th IBCT had formed during their time in Kosovo and how their combined efforts had laid the foundation for future successes.
“To our partners, it was our pleasure to work with some of the finest soldiers from all over Europe,” Samulski said.
As the multinational brigade assigned to Regional Command - East, Task Force Saint Lo commanded more than 1,000 personnel from 10 nations to maintain a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement throughout Kosovo. The leaders and staff planned and executed three named operations to decrease tensions related to Serbian elections, license plate reciprocity, and securing energy infrastructure.
The brigade also worked with the Serbian armed forces to ensure all parties complied with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999 and the Military Technical Agreement. The focus of RC-East was to resolve tensions in the Balkans through political dialogue focused on normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo.
They planned and participated in multinational training events with the German contingencies to earn the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge and Schützenschnur and with the Danish contingencies to participate in the DANCON march. They also hosted the U.S. marksmanship badges for two NATO nations.
Senior leaders took part in more than 70 engagements with the Kosovo Police, local mayors and Serbian armed forces. The Civil-Military Cooperation section executed 10 projects valued at more than 70,000 euros.
Lt. Col. Chris Mabis, the incoming RC-East commander, thanked Samulski and his team for their support in training as Task Force Nighthawk readied for RC-East command.
“We’ve spent nearly a year preparing for this mission, and I appreciate the time you [Samulski] and your Soldiers and leaders spent helping us prepare,” said Mabis. “I’m confident that we are ready to assume the Regional Command-East mission for KFOR 31.”
The VNG’s 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, served as the aviation task force for RC-E, providing medical casualty transportation and air mobility for all KFOR troops. They completed their transfer of authority Oct. 11.
Other units serving in RC-E included a maneuver battalion capable of rapidly deploying throughout their area of responsibility and an effects battalion maintaining situational awareness with local authorities and non-government organizations for monitoring and identifying security, socioeconomic and political situations.
The maneuver battalion was led by the Kentucky National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry Regiment, and included companies from Poland, Turkey and Latvia. The 1-149th also led the effects battalion and included troops from Switzerland, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Hungary and Slovenia. They ended their mission Oct. 29.
The maneuver battalion conducted more than 2,700 independent patrols along the administrative boundary line with Serbia, more than 170 patrols with the Kosovo Border and Boundary Police, and more than 230 synchronized patrols with Serbian Armed Forces.
Additional reporting by Sgt. 1st Class Herschel Talley