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Quality of Life to Improve for Troops in Kosovo

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 27, 1999 – Bosnia set the standard and now military officials are turning their attention to improving quality of life for American service members in Kosovo.

"I'd probably be telling a big lie if I said life is great in Kosovo," U.S. Army Europe's Command Sgt. Maj. Riley C. Miller told Pentagon officials here. "It's adequate, but soldiers living there know that USAREUR does have an aggressive program that will deliver the quality of life equipment and facilities as soon as possible."

Riley, the command's senior enlisted soldier, spoke at a Quality of Life Senior Executive Committee meeting in mid-September. He briefed Rudy de Leon, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and other top officials on efforts under way in Kosovo to support U.S. peacekeepers.

Despite dangerous, dirty and rough conditions, most service members in Bosnia and Kosovo believe they are doing great things for their service and their nation, Miller said. "If we want to keep that attitude alive in those young men and women who we're asking to work 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, we have to do everything in our power to ensure they have the absolute best facilities we can give them. We must provide them with a decent quality of life while they're deployed."

Military officials developed base camp facility standards in 1998 to ensure minimum quality of life standards were met in Operation Joint Forge in Bosnia, Miller said. The standards cover housing, unit and soldier support, as well as morale, welfare and recreation facilities. These standards now guide the development of facilities and support in Operation Joint Guardian in Kosovo.

Construction at Camps Bondsteel and Monteith in Kosovo continues. Morale, welfare and recreation specialists have established temporary fitness and television areas. Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores in trailers meet service members' basic needs. Medical clinics are operating out of expandable vans or tents. Camp Bondsteel boasts a full combat surgical support hospital and Monteith has two medical facilities. Chapels have also been set up in tents at both camps.

Military officials are constructing 168 wooden buildings known as 'SEA-huts,' at Bondsteel and 64 at Monteith. Each Southeast Asia hut can house up to eight service members and contains a latrine and showers. All are to be completed by Oct. 1.

"We went into Bosnia and put tents up," Miller said. "Putting tents up is not a cost-effective way of doing business." In Kosovo, officials have set up temporary tents until SEA-huts can be built. SEA-huts have a longer life span than the tents initially used in Bosnia, he said.

At Bondsteel, U.S. forces are using various company and battalion areas, while troops at Camp Monteith are maintaining their vehicles in a former Yugoslav army motor pool. New motor pools are planned for each camp, Miller said, as well as maintenance facilities, administration areas, fuel truck parking areas, wash racks and hazardous material collection points.

Most troop dining facilities in Kosovo are under tents. At Monteith, a dining facility opened in a former Yugoslav army facility in early September. Service members are alternating hot meals and field rations, but the plan is to begin serving three hot meals per day soon, Miller said.

While there are no education centers in Kosovo yet, construction is planned. "We've got to have them," Miller said. "Deployed men and women will tell you that there are two things that make off- duty time bearable. One is good fitness facilities; the other is continuing education."

Most of the fitness facilities in Kosovo are in tents or temporary buildings, Miller noted. Bondsteel recently opened a new fitness facility, the first of two planned for the camp. These facilities "allow our young men and women to constructively use the time they are not patrolling," Miller said. "Good physical fitness, and the attendant facilities, are vital to us."

Officials also plan to build sports fields, with basketball and volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, and flag football, softball and soccer areas. "Outdoor sports fields are not as high a priority right now, because we're trying our absolute best to build indoor fitness facilities to beat the winter," he said.

Military officials are also working on a pass program for service members deployed in Kosovo. Soldiers are normally assigned to the Balkans for 180 days or more.

As a result, U.S. Army Europe built a Pass Program, which is 96 dedicated hours in a site in theater where they can get a break, Miller said. Soldiers serving in Bosnia can go to Budapest, Hungary, or Makarska, Croatia. Military officials are exploring opportunities for soldiers from Kosovo to go to Sofia, Bulgaria on pass.

Bondsteel opened its first of two new recreation centers in early September. The centers will feature telephone Internet access, a theater area, a common area for games and a library. In Bosnia, there are about 538 commercial telephones for about 6,000 people, Miller noted. In Kosovo, there are 57 telephones for about 7,000 people. More will be installed when facilities are built that will provide privacy and protection from the elements, he said.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageCamp Bondsteel soldiers compete in a volleyball tournament at a combination Labor Day-Grand Opening celebration of the Morale, Welfare and Recreation facility at the Kosovo camp. SPC Daniel Ernst, U.S. Army   
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