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Kosovo Force Brings Hope, Goodwill to Impoverished Areas

By Master Sgt. Lee Roberts, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

PRISTINA, Kosovo, Feb. 22, 2005 – When American, Slovak, Czech and Irish troops assigned to Kosovo Force arrived in Plementina and Azotikut on a humanitarian mission Feb. 20, they spotted adults and children walking through the snow and mud in frayed sandals and torn socks, some wearing only pieces of pinned-up fabric as clothing.

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U.S. Army Maj. David Ellis, from Kosovo Force headquarters, hands out a box of American-donated goods to needy families in Plementina, Kosovo, on Feb. 20. The Americans and Slovaks from KFOR teamed up on the humanitarian mission of goodwill. Photo by Master Sgt. Lee Roberts, USAF
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Observing the austere living conditions, detecting an air of hopelessness, and seeing families in dire need of even the most basic necessities of life, every KFOR volunteer sprung into action and infused a measure of hope into these poverty-stricken areas.

Working side by side with several United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo representatives and local community leaders, KFOR's troops quickly unloaded American-donated boxes of clothing, hygiene items and toys and distributed the assistance to 113 families and more than 500 people in both communities. At each donation site, about 20 American servicemembers ranging from private to colonel labored with coalition partners to deliver the goodwill.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Laura Bunyan, who works in KFOR's intelligence center, said she is humbled to participate in such an important mission of compassion and to know she is making a difference helping the people of Kosovo during her deployment.

"The most touching thing was the sense of family that each community showed. The people share everything among their family and with their neighbors, even though they have very little food and worldly possessions," said Bunyan, who is from Northridge, Calif.

Other KFOR members also were impressed by the willingness of the aid recipients to share anything they had with the KFOR humanitarians, even when they had nothing to give but a smile and warm handshake.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stephen Hale said he received a lot of satisfaction helping the citizens in Plementina and Azotikut. But what stuck in his mind the most is the moment he first arrived in Azotikut.

"I had barely stepped out of my vehicle when a woman came onto the road from within the gated confines of her enclave," he said. "She said, in very clear English, 'American soldier I have babies. Please come to see.' She was smiling and very noticeably excited about our presence and was proud beyond typical motherly pride to show us her babies."

The woman invited the NATO Fuel Funds manager into her home, where four women proudly introduced their children and asked to have their pictures taken. Hale, an Oxford, Ind., native, left the home after his short visit, but later returned with a box of extra toys. "I will never forget the look on her face or the look of amazement and surprise on the faces of a half-dozen children as we laid the box on the floor for her children's inspection," Hale said.

Lulete Gajrami, a resident of Azotikut and one of the women in the home Hale visited, grinned from ear to ear and commented how good it feels that someone is thinking about her community. "It was good to receive these things and the toys," she said.

Azotikut leader Jetullah Bajrami said the community is basically unemployed, so the donations were very valuable to them. "Our kids are in need of any help they can get right now. We are not able to offer the kids any toys, therefore I would like to thank KFOR for bringing a little happiness to the kids here," he said.

U.S. Army Maj. David Ellis, military assistant to the political adviser for the commander of KFOR, coordinated the two-day mission and said the success of the mission and the effort of every KFOR member is evident.

Nonetheless, he acknowledged that the positive results also are due to a lot of behind-the-scenes work. He especially credits Berta Grunaum, a local community officer for UNMIK, whose personal knowledge and commitment made it possible for KFOR to deliver the assistance to the areas needing it most.

Also, 15 American and 15 Slovak volunteers gathered at Camp Shajkovac Feb. 19 to prepare donation boxes. The Slovak contingent from the Czech/Slovak Battle Group hosted the Americans and fed and entertained them, which drew the two groups together as a team before the next day's delivery mission.

Slovak Maj. Martin pick, deputy commander of Camp Shajkovac, said the chance to work together with the Americans is good for everyone involved. "It's a pleasure cooperating with the United States soldiers," he said. "One of our main tasks here is to help the citizens and to support them. So I'm glad our soldiers could do this mission alongside the Americans."

Slovak 1st Lt. Alexander Gaal, an Echo Company officer, added that he often visits these villages and sees the conditions these people live in. "So we are grateful for the distribution of these clothes. It is satisfying to bring hope to these people," he said.

U.S. Navy Lt. Sarah Stancati, from Kalamazoo, Mich., said her experience at Camp Shajkovac made the mission even more worthwhile. "I really enjoy the opportunity to work with forces from other countries," she said. "It provides an opportunity to get out, visit another camp, and have some fun, at the same time doing something worthwhile."

The American-led mission is over, but Ellis said the men and women of KFOR shared a piece of their heart with every donation. "There is no administrative boundary line when it comes to the caring," the major said. "Today we served together to bring peace and a little bit of happiness to the people of Kosovo. It is an honor to be a part of it, and I will always be proud to have assisted in some small way."

(Air Force Master Sgt. Lee Roberts is assigned to the Kosovo Force Headquarters Public Information Office.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Army Sgt. David Schermerhorn and U.S. Air Force Capt. Laura Bunyan, from Kosovo Force headquarters in Pristina, Kosovo, prepare donation boxes at Camp Shajkovac on Feb. 19 to be distributed in the villages of Plementina and Azotikut the next day. They were joined by Slovak soldiers assigned to Echo Company. Photo by Master Sgt. Lee Roberts, USAF  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA man in Plementina leaves with his box of clothing, hygiene items and toys for his family. American and Slovak military members assigned to Kosovo Force delivered the American-donated goods to needy families Feb. 20. Photo by Master Sgt. Lee Roberts, USAF  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Army Staff Sgt. Mona Walters, from the U.S. National Support Element in Pristina, Kosovo, holds a baby while visiting with residents of Azotikut during a humanitarian mission there Feb. 20. Photo by Master Sgt. Lee Roberts, USAF  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageLulete Gajrami and one of her relatives hurry excitedly to their home as U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stephen Hale follows with a box of fruit for her and her neighbors to enjoy. The American and Slovak Kosovo Force contingent decided to donate many of their lunch items to the families in need during their humanitarian mission to Azotikut Feb. 20. Photo by Master Sgt. Lee Roberts, USAF  
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