GNJILANE/GJILAN, Kosovo, - A man stands on the steps leading up to
his house. He slumps slightly to his left. His feet are extremely
disfigured. His left foot is mostly missing, the result of severe frostbite
from years ago. He looks down from his porch; the look on his face shows
both bewilderment and joy as a group of U.S. Soldiers approaches.
His pregnant wife stands up from the floor, where she has been rolling
tobacco into cigarettes. She greets the strangers with a smile. One of their
three children stands near the house, next to a pile of used diapers. The
child's clothing is so dirty it looks as if he had been playing in mud.
In one of the two sparsely furnished rooms this family calls home, their two
other children lay on the floor. The 3-year-old girl, still unable to walk,
lays in a makeshift cradle, flies swarming around her.
Soldiers from half the world away are working with a local Red Cross to
bring this family, and many others like it, the vitamins, soap, toothpaste
and other personal hygiene products they require in order to improve their
As Kosovo builds and develops, fewer families live as this one does.
However, there are still places in Kosovo that are in great need. It is part
of the mission of the 192nd Liaison Monitoring Team (LMT), Multinational
Battle Group East (MNBG E), to talk to families, business owners and
government officials to find out what those needs are.
"There are so many families here in need," said Sgt. Marta Gonzalez, a
Puerto Rico Army National Guard member working with the LMTs. "Each family
is living in extremely poor situations."
The mission that the LMTs have is one of the more unique ones to the Army.
The LMTs are charged with sensing the populace to find out what the needs of
the people are.
Soldiers like Gonzalez and Sgt. Radiff Vega, a former wheeled vehicle
mechanic with the Puerto Rico Guard, who is now a squad leader with the
LMTs, have never done a job like this before.
"I used to work with tools and hardly ever interact with people," said Vega.
"In this job, I have to interact with people every day."
Every day, Soldiers with the LMTs go out into municipalities like Gnjilane/
Gjilan and talk with residents. They spend some days talking with the people
living in the countryside, apart from the village center.
The goal is to find the right non-governmental organizations that can help.
Other days they speak with business owners and government representatives,
like the Kosovo police.
After elections earlier this year in Partesh/Partes, the village began
taking steps toward becoming its own municipality. As a result, the Kosovo
police had a staffing change in Zegra/Zheger, one of the villages in the
Gnjilane/Gjilan municipality, said Vega.
When changes like this happen, the LMTs meet with the new members of the
Kosovo police. This will help the LMTs later on if they have to facilitate
meetings with the KP, said Vega.
Building a good relationship with the Kosovo police in the area is helpful
when issues arise in the communities.
While the LMTs visit families in need, as well as individuals that work with
or for the government, this isn't enough to see an accurate depiction of
life in Kosovo. It does, however, help paint a picture of how life is for
some people in Kosovo.
"This job is very important," said Vega. "We are the link between the people
in Kosovo and the government. We are teaching them where to go to get the
things they need so that they can do this on their own."
The work these Soldiers do is never finished. After they speak with people
in Kosovo and figure out what some of the issues may be, they have to find
the right people who can provide the assistance that is necessary to improve
their quality of life.
The information gathered by the teams is put into reports and dispersed
among all the different sections within MNBG-E. At that point, the proper
people and NGOs can be reached.
"What we have to understand is that Kosovo is still in development, and the
people here have a lot of needs," said Vega.