FERIZAJ, Kosovo - Army Command Sgt. Maj. Rachel Fails, The Iowan National Guard's Regional Training Institute command sergeant major, and her team of instructors spent more than two weeks in Kosovo this month teaching the first Kosovo Security Force Senior Noncommissioned Officer Course as part of the National Guard State Partnership Program.
The Iowa National Guard and Kosovo began their SPP in March. The Senior NCO Course for the KSF is the initial collaborative training event for the partnership as well as the first course of its kind for the KSF.
Fails said as the state partner for Kosovo, Iowa is in it for the long term.
"This is actually the first real big collaborative training event that we've done," she said.
"This course was in development when the NCO leadership of Iowa visited Kosovo in September," Fails said. "So, it did a couple things for us besides give us, the state partner, information and knowledge of the KSF. It really is the first step in building that relationship - a personal relationship that three years, four years, five years from now we're still going to be here and we're going to keep building here."
Discussions of future events include the possible inclusion of Kosovo participants in the Best Warrior competition held each spring in Iowa as well as agricultural exchange and economic ventures.
For now, the skilled Iowa instructors are focused on the growth of the KSF senior enlisted personnel.
"The KSF is trying to develop their NCO support channel," Fails said. "It began as a concept between some of the NATO allies and the KSF to develop this course and focus on the senior NCOs in the KSF giving them some additional skills, explaining how the support channel works and helping them see what their role is in it."
The first course hosted students in the senior ranks of the young KSF. According to Command Sgt. Maj. Genc Metaj, KSF command sergeant major, the students were chosen based on their past performance, their promotable status and selection by evaluation from their superiors.
"The expectation of the course is to select the best candidates," Metaj said. "The goal of the course is to identify the best candidates to work in the [NCO] support channel in the future."
The lessons were built through a working group comprised of KSF personnel as well as U.S. Army troops stationed in Kosovo as part of the Kosovo Forces 14 rotation. The working group was led by Command Sgt. Maj. Abel Villesca, Multinational Battle Group East command sergeant major, where discussions on course content for the KSF students was agreed upon. The course was then built by KFOR14, the Iowa RTI and the senior leadership of the KSF. More than 50 students attended the initial class taught by a conglomerate of the course creators utilizing experts from each element to teach their individual specialties.
Metaj was impressed by the professionalism of the Iowa Guard members, both those currently deployed to Kosovo and traveling from Iowa.
He specifically spoke to the partnership program that has now begun with Iowa.
"It is a very good beginning with Iowa," he said. "The [course] has been bigger and greater than I expected. They are doing a very good job and also the military personnel from [Camp] Bondsteel are a great support. What is very important is the participants are very happy with the performance and the speeches and everything from the Bondsteel and from the Iowa team."
Metaj added that the KSF is a new force. The NCO corps in the KSF is based on the concept of the U.S. Army and as such, the KSF wants to take the best elements from the U.S. concept and adapt them into the KSF NCO corps.
The team, made up of instructors, small group leaders and trainers from Iowa, has years of practice teaching U.S. military students.
Fails said that while the experience has been rewarding in many ways for the Iowa team of instructors, there have also been challenges to overcome.
"The biggest challenge is the language," she said. "We've got fabulous interpreters that have helped a lot. A lot of the [KSF] leadership has taken English and we've been able to count on some of them to communicate with. Just like anywhere though, you learn to communicate.
"Second one is the cultural differences. There are some nuances that are different. They like to see stuff very specifically, very detailed."
Even with the challenges, the Iowa team has enjoyed the beginning of the fledgling partnership program for the state and Kosovo. They also said they look forward to the growth potential between the two entities.
As for the students in the premier class, much was learned from the teachers and they are eager for additional training. Specifically, Kosovo Staff Sgt. Rasim Istogu, a student, said he learned a lot during the course about the NCO support channel, techniques of movement, tactical operations, drill and ceremony and physical fitness.
Another student, Staff Sgt. Ferki Segaqa, said he looks forward to more cooperation in the future and believes the training will help them in their military careers.
They said they are pleased with the training and excited to share their new knowledge with fellow KSF troops to enhance the service as a whole.
As of March, there are 65 global partnerships fostered by the National Guard State Partnership Program. The program is focused on an international affairs mission for interaction between the National Guard and foreign forces, non-governmental organization and interagency partners.
One of the newest partnerships, the Iowa and Kosovo coupling has now completed its first collaborative training event through the KSF Senior NCO course with many more opportunities on the horizon for the Iowa Citizen-Soldiers and their partners in Kosovo.