Gates Visits U.S. Troops in Kosovo
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
PRISTINA, Kosovo, Oct. 7, 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates visited with U.S. troops assigned to NATO’s Kosovo Force here today.
Gates – making the first visit to Kosovo by a defense secretary since 2001 -- said he wanted to thank the 1,400 American servicemembers deployed here.
“We haven’t forgotten about them, and we know how important they are,” Gates said during a news conference with Pentagon reporters.
The Europeans and Kosovars depend on the American presence, Gates noted. “There has been a great concern that we might pull out, and what I have reassured our allies is that when the president said ‘in together, out together,’ [it] will continue to be our policy,” Gates said. “We will continue to fulfill our responsibilities there.”
The troops are National Guardsmen assigned to the 110th Maneuver Enhanced Brigade of the Missouri National Guard. The Kansas City-based unit also has Guardsmen from Alabama, Illinois, South Dakota, California, Texas and New Mexico. The unit arrived at Camp Bondsteel in June and will return to the United States in March. A unit from the California National Guard will take its place.
The unit works with other NATO units to ensure Kosovo remains safe and secure as the country works through its political issues, said command spokesman Army Sgt. 1st Class Craig L. Collins. Task Force Sabre and Task Force Thunder – two units built around the 110th’s maneuver battalions – patrol various areas of the country and work with Kosovar security forces to maintain calm.
Other members of the unit set up medical and dental civil affairs programs for more remote villages in their area of operations.
Camp Bondsteel itself looks like the movie version of a World War II prisoner-of-war camp. Gravel roads and paths run between wooden buildings, and the whole is surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, with guard towers at regular intervals. “But the rooms are decent, the offices are good and we’ve got movies, a post exchange, coffee bars and gyms,” Collins said. “Believe me, no one is complaining here.”