American Clothing Distribution Warms up Kosovo Relations
By Master Sgt. Lee Roberts, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
PRISTINA, Kosovo, Jan. 28, 2005 A U.S. led team of multinational troops recently provided clothing, linens, hygiene items and toys contained in American-donated care packages to more than 70 needy families in Gllogoc- Glogovac municipality, Kosovo.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Francisca Gutierrez, assigned to KFOR
headquarters, gives a box of clothing, linens, hygiene items, and toys to a
needy family at Gllogoc-Glogovac Municipality Jan. 23. U.S., Finnish, German,
Irish, Italian, Czech Republic, Swedish and Romanian troops took
part in the humanitarian mission in Kosovo. Photo by Master Sgt. Lee Roberts,
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The two-day humanitarian mission, which ended Jan. 23, served to warm up relations between Kosovo Force and this nearby community. But more importantly, KFOR officials said, these garments are providing extra layers of winter protection for more than 360 people.
"I'm very emotional here today," expressed Gani Sylaj, president of Gllogoc- Glogovac municipality, following the distribution of aid to the residents he represents. "This really means a lot to me and to these needy families. This winter will be much easier with the assistance that has been given here today," he said as his eyes welled up with emotion.
U.S. Army Maj. David Ellis, military assistant to the political adviser for the commander of KFOR, coordinated this humanitarian mission and ecstatically praised the effort of everyone who prepared donation boxes and then delivered them.
Ellis explained that liaison-monitoring teams living and working in the area coordinated with local officials to identify the families that needed assistance the most. More than 25 Finnish and American troops then spent the afternoon Jan. 22 at Camp Christina, near Suhodoll-Suvido village, sorting the donations and preparing boxes of goods geared to the specific makeup of each family.
"We broke down all the donation boxes and put clothes into piles for men, women, children, both boys and girls, and for babies," Ellis said. "We then labeled on each individual box the age and sex of each family member, and then each volunteer built a donation box comprising of items that matched the description of each family member."
Finnish Maj. Timo Ryynnen, commander of Company A at Camp Christina in Multinational Brigade Center, said he is proud of the effort his troops demonstrated side-by-side with the Americans from KFOR headquarters. It is obvious everyone involved enjoyed working together, but each person had the welfare of the Kosovar families and children in mind, he said.
"This is a very good opportunity for us to get clothes to the local people and to show them we are not just monitoring them we are also trying to help them build a better society," Ryynnen added.
Finish Sgt. Oskar Granquist, a transportation NCO, helped build several donation boxes and said he is glad that in a small way he contributed. He explained that he is normally confined to his camp because of his duties, but this allowed him to reach out beyond the barbed wire surrounding him.
"It feels good to help people," Granquist said. "I think about the small babies that will have nice clothes, and the parents will be happy. It feels good to help provide assistance straight to the people who need it."
At the distribution point in an outdoor theater Jan. 23, a larger volunteer team consisting of U.S., Finnish, German, Irish, Italian, Czech, Swedish and Romanian troops unloaded a truck full of the donations that were sorted and boxed the day before. The boxes were carried to the stage and then arranged and organized for quick delivery.
As officials called up each family to receive a donation, KFOR troops interacted with them and even handed out candy to the children, who eagerly ate it on the spot. Volunteers also assisted with carrying boxes to the parking lot, where transportation waited to provide each family a ride back home.
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Julie Leszczynski, who works at KFOR headquarters, said handing out boxes and seeing the look in each person's eye is forever burned into her memory.
"The best thing about the mission is the smiles on the faces of the children," said Leszczynski, a native of Santa Clarita, Calif. "The villages and the people are in need of these items, and we are fortunate to be able to bring them. It shows the world the U.S. is willing to help out in any way it can."
For each KFOR humanitarian, this mission is over and all have returned to base. But for the people of Gllogoc-Glogovac municipality, the volunteer effort is more than a single act of kindness. It is viewed as another lasting link that continues to draw them closer with their American and KFOR friends.
President Sylaj said he realizes KFOR troops carry weapons to provide security, but he truly understands that KFOR soldiers are on a mission of peace.
"Five years have gone by since KFOR was based here in Kosovo," he said. "KFOR has helped us with road repairs and construction. They have helped us construct and repair bridges, and they have assisted us with rehabilitating a riverbed here. Also, KFOR has been in charge of security. Their presence is surely peaceful. When we see them, the people know they are free."
Ellis said he personally will remember this day for a long time to come, and he summed up the positive relationship between KFOR and the people of Gllogoc- Glogovac.
"We gave these families gifts that will help them through a tough winter," said the major, who is from Martinsville, Ind. "But the most valuable thing these people received were the gifts that came from the hearts of all of our troops who were involved -- and that is kindness, graciousness, caring, and sincere friendship."
(Air Force Master Sgt. Lee Roberts is assigned to the Kosovo Force Headquarters Public Information Office.)