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Home : News : State Partnership Program
NEWS | Sept. 3, 2010

Puerto Rico Guardsmen work with Kosovo's poorest

By Pfc. Sarah A. Cummings, 130th Public Affairs Detachment

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 living conditions.

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.