By Maj. Cotton Puryear
CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. - Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard passed the halfway point of their mobilization training in late August as they prepare to deploy to Kosovo for peacekeeping operations in November. Soldiers from Virginia make up about one third of the approximately 1,500 Soldiers in the U.S. contingent of Kosovo Force 8.
Soldiers began arriving at Camp Atterbury, Ind., in mid-July and continued to arrive in staggered groups in the following weeks.
After conducting initial medical and dental inprocessing, Soldiers began training focused on individual Soldier skills. The Soldiers took part in what is called “theater immersion training” where the skills and scenarios are specifically geared towards situations they could potentially face in Kosovo, said Lt. Col Eric Barr, operations officer for KFOR 8. Besides basic first aid training, Soldiers also gained a familiarization with tasks like basic convoy operations, vehicle checkpoint procedures and how to react to minefields and unexploded munitions.
In September the task force will shift the focus of their training to team building and collective tasks, Barr said. After the senior staff takes part in a decision making exercise at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the task force will take part in a series of command post exercises that will simulate missions that could be conducted in Kosovo.
After the command post exercises in September, the task force will deploy to Germany and conduct the Mission Rehearsal Exercise, Barr said. The MRX will be the final training exercise the unit conducts before moving into Kosovo in November.
Barr explained that once the task force arrives in Kosovo they will spend time working with the current task force in the KFOR rotation. After this transistion period, the task force will assume authority for the mission in Kosovo.
The Virginia National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division will provide command and control for one of the five brigade-sized task forces conducting peace-enforcement operations in Kosovo. National Guard units from 17 states and Puerto Rico, as well as units from the active Army and the Army Reserve, will deploy to Kosovo under the 29th Division flag in late November and assume control of the Multi-National Task Force (East).
The Virginia National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry is providing Soldiers for Task Force Red Dragon, one of several subordinate battalion-sized task forces in MNTF(E). Besides three infantry companies, Task Force Red Dragon also has a Liaison Monitoring Team Company, a unique organization for the Kosovo mission.
The mission of the LMT Company is to develop close working relationships with residents in different areas of Kosovo to help deter or counter potential conflict situations, explained Lt. Col. Laptha Flora, commander of Task Force Red Dragon. LMTs get a sensing from the local population to identify points of friction that could impact the stability of the area. They can also identify new risks and provide early warning of potential conflicts, Flora said.
The three infantry companies will be involved with mounted and dismounted patrolling aimed at maintaining a safe and secure environment for the people of Kosovo. They will be conducting security patrols as well as working with local officials on border security to help deter organized crime operations like smuggling, Flora said.
MNTF(E) is part of a larger NATO-led international force known as the Kosovo Force (KFOR). KFOR is a responsible for establishing and maintaining security in Kosovo. The organization entered Kosovo on June 12, 1999 under a United Nations mandate, two days after the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1244. The lead nation for the task force is the United States, and the contributing nations are Armenia, Greece, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Ukraine. The United States forces are often referred to as Task Force Falcon.
The objectives of KFOR are to establish and maintain a secure environment in Kosovo, including public safety and order; to monitor, verify and when necessary, enforce compliance with the agreements that ended the conflict; and to provide assistance to the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).
Diplomats from Kosovo, Serbia and the international community have been actively engaged in talks during recent weeks geared towards determining Kosovo’s status either as an independent state or province of Serbia with a high degree of autonomy.
“We don’t take sides in the status talks,” said Col. Douglas B. Earhart, the commander of MNTF(E). “Our mission is to provide a safe and secure environment for all the people of Kosovo so they can work through the status process without the fear of violence.”
For more information about KFOR 8, visit the unit’s public information web site at www.kfor8.com.