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NEWS | March 1, 2011

Kosovo-bound Guardmembers finish training at Camp Atterbury

By Army Staff Sgt. David Bruce Headquarters Camp Atterbury

CAMP ATERBURY, Ind. - Army National Guard Soldiers from 20 states and five territories, scheduled to deploy to Kosovo, came together at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center for two months to form the Kosovo Force (KFOR) 14 taskforce.

KFOR arrived at Camp Atterbury for its final deployment training Jan. 3 and is scheduled to depart through the beginning of March. The approximately 700-strong force consists of a maneuver company, an aviation company, as well as medical, explosive ordnance disposal and military police.

Their mission  - to provide security and stability operations to the fledgling nation of Kosovo, a former Yugoslav republic that declared its independence Feb. 17, 2008.

KFOR is a NATO-led, multi-national force, that initially deployed in 1999 to provide a secure environment in the wake of the Kosovo War between ethnic Serbians in Yugoslavia and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, which ended with a campaign by NATO to halt Serbian aggression.

The Guardmembers will be part of Multi-national Battle Group-East and are commanded by Army Col. Michael D. Schwartz.

“The training has been phenomenal, much better than I expected,” Schwartz said. “They have folks from all over the world who are subject matter experts in the various special staff skills and functional areas that we train on for Kosovo, which is not your typical Army combat environment.”

According to Schwartz, KFOR 14 has several primary missions in Kosovo but essentially their job is security.

They will be responsible for providing a safe and secure environment to those in Kosovo, regardless of ethnicity, age, national origin or political stance.

“We provide security so the institutions in Kosovo can grow into a self-sustaining free and open society,” Schwartz said.  “The second thing we provide is freedom of movement to make sure all citizens of Kosovo are able to move about as they need to conduct any business, and also for the forces in Kosovo to move where they need to so they can accomplish whatever job they need to do.”

He added that as a last resort, their job is to forcibly ensure a secure environment and freedom of movement.

As with any mission, preparation and training with a healthy dose of motivation are crucial ingredients for success.

“We spent the last year preparing for this mission,” Schwartz said. “Most the Soldiers we have are volunteers in the true sense of the word. I think the true strength of this group is they are all volunteers.”
KFOR arrived at Camp Atterbury for its final deployment training Jan. 3 and is scheduled to depart through the beginning of March. The approximately 700-strong force consists of a maneuver company, an aviation company, as well as medical, explosive ordnance disposal and military police.

The maneuver element, C Company, 1st Battalion, 200th Infantry, New Mexico Army National Guard, received training on nonlethal applications of force during their time at Camp Atterbury.

This included the use of air-powered pellets, tasers, oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray, and riot shields and police batons.

“These techniques have more significance with an increase in stability operations that we will be performing in Kosovo,” said Army 1st Sgt. Charles Garcia, senior non-commissioned officer with C Company.

 “There were no instances of having to quell riots with the last KFOR rotation, but we still need to be prepared.”

In addition to the nonlethal weapons training, they also practiced setting up checkpoints for vehicles.

“The purpose of the checkpoints is to halt the trafficking of weapons or anything else illegal,” said Army Spc. José Cruz, a medic with C Company. “However, we have to ensure that we don’t interfere with the flow of legitimate traffic.”

During these checkpoint operations, the Soldiers assist Kosovo police, who act as translators and apprehend suspects after the searches.

“The training has been going pretty well for this mission,” Cruz said. “It will help us maintain the safety of the civilians on both sides of the border, Serbs and Albanian.

Army Capt. Sergio Hands added that one of the biggest challenges has been going from high intensity operations to a lower intensity peacekeeping mission.

“We have to adjust from our doctrinal infantry tasks to these less kinetic missions,” he said.

The shift from high intensity operations was emphasized also from the Battle Group commander.

“The difference is a mind-set. We always talk about being able to operate in a full-spectrum environment, yet we’re often not fully trained to operate in the low to medium spectrum,” Schwartz said. “So we put most of our emphasis in that low to medium spectrum of combat operations. In Afghanistan or Iraq, we are focused almost entirely on the high to medium intensity; for Kosovo, we are focused on the low to medium.”

Another challenge for this KFOR rotation is they will be the only American maneuver unit in eastern Kosovo.

To compensate for having to cover a large area, they will be working extensively with the taskforce’s aviation company, C Company, 1st Battalion, 150th Aviation, of the West Virginia Army National Guard, Hands said.

“We have to cover a vast area of operations with few people; we can do this with the help of aviation,” he said.

Due to the Yugoslav civil wars, the region is one of the most heavily land-mined areas in the world.

The explosive ordnance disposal unit trained with various techniques to deal with these persistent hazards. Options available to these Soldiers include - controlled detonation, using robots to disarm explosives or a precise shot with a .50 caliber sniper rifle, also referred to as stand-off munitions detonation.

Taskforce Soldiers also practiced medical skills before departing.

The medical company had the opportunity to train at the emergency room at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Indianapolis. This experience helped these medics gain important training on non-battlefield related emergencies.

For elements of KFOR 14, every effort has been made to ensure that Soldiers are as well-trained and prepared for their mission as possible.

“The Soldiers volunteered for this and we’re making sacrifices, but the sacrifices family members and the employers are making are just as important as the sacrifice the Soldier makes and very often go unrecognized. I very much appreciate the families and employers support of us and our mission,” Schwartz said.