Life as a U.S. Peacekeeper in Kosovo
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 27, 1999 Like budding crops, rows of Southeast Asian huts, known as SEAhuts, have sprouted in Kosovo where about 6,000 American troops are supporting the NATO-led peacekeeping force known as KFOR.
U.S. forces entered Kosovo in June following NATO Operation Allied Force. Since then, military officials have worked to rapidly improve service members' quality of life. In contrast to the Bosnia peacekeeping mission where troops lived in tents for many months before moving into hardened structures, DoD decided to erect the SEAhuts from the start.
About 4,000 U.S. service members are stationed at Camp Bondsteel in the farm fields near Urosevac, and another 2,000 are at Camp Montieth, near Gnjilane. Both camps are named after medal of honor recipients, Army Staff Sgt. James L. Bondsteel, honored for heroism in Vietnam, and Army 1st Lt. Jimmie W. Montieth Jr, honored for heroism in France during World War II.
Another 500 Americans support the operation from Camp Able Sentry in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The U.S. contingent is known as Task Force Falcon.
Duty life at Bondsteel involves long hours and 7-day work weeks, according to Capt. Garth J. Case, HHC, 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. Case is the battle captain for G-3 operations, a section that tracks what goes on, he explained, "sort of like '911.'"
"There are no weekends here," Case said. Some of the headquarters people are working 18-hour days." The overall mission, he said, involves protecting "a lot of people from the dangers here that would be even worse if we weren't," he said.
An ethnic Albanian woman, one of about 400 contract interpretors working for the task force, said NATO troops relieved her people of a heavy burden. Prior to Operation Allied Force, Serb authorities made it hard for Albanians to live in Kosovo, she said, forcing them to speak Serbian and to show identity cards. "Now," Makfire Pajaziti said, "I feel like I just fly."
U.S. forces in Kosovo conduct about 350 squad-size security operations every day, according to Task Force Falcon Chief of Staff, Army Col. Ellis W. Golson. Eleven-man squads patrol on foot or in HUMVEES in the towns and villages within the 23,000-square kilometer American zone.
"Our aviation assets flying support missions fly about 40 hours per airplane per month, which is about four times the normal rate for any unit in the States," he said.
Along with Bondsteel and Montieth, Golson said U.S. forces man 27 out-lying sites 24 hours a day, where they operate checkpoints, control traffic and clear roads. "We have civil affairs soldiers who are out every day working with the U.N. mission in Kosovo, trying to set up the local government, get power reestablished and identify all the needs we have."
"We're asking young sergeants, E-5s and E-6s, 21 and 22 years old, to make decisions that represent the U.S. Army," Golson said. "They sit in on local leaders meetings where we're trying to get local people to come together. They resolve conflicts between Albanians and Serbs, and sometimes, Albanians on Albanians."
In one case, a soldier dealt with two people arguing over a cow, for example. "Both of them claimed it was their cow. So the soldier said, 'I'll shoot it, then you all can butcher it.' One of them said, 'No, don't do that.' So the soldier told him, 'OK, it must be your cow.'" This soldier obviously had "paid attention in Sunday school," Golson said, referring to the biblical story of King Solomon's ploy to determine the real mother of a child.
Golson said the security situation in Kosovo was "volatile," when the Task Force first arrived. It has since improved. "Now it is equal or better than any city in the United States across the board," he said. As far as establishing a safe and secure environment, yes, we've done that."
Task Force Falcon's operations sergeant major, Steve Wilson, said today's Army is prepared to do its job. "Our job right now is to keep the peace here in Kosovo."