Defense Secretary ‘Walks the Beat’ in Kosovo
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
GJILAN, Kosovo, Oct. 7, 2008 Some U.S. soldiers in Kosovo have a job similar to that of a beat cop, and today they took Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates along with them as they walked the streets.
The soldiers are members of liaison monitoring teams that grew out of the nationwide riots in March 2004 that caught the NATO-led Kosovo Force unaware.
“We walk the streets. We try to see what’s happening in the neighborhoods, so we can perhaps stop something like the riots,” said Army Sgt. John Mitchell, a Missouri National Guardsmen who leads a four-man team here.
This is an overt information-gathering group; the soldiers do not spy on people or do “black-bag” jobs to get information. Rather, they meet with the people, they read the fliers being handed out, they decipher the graffiti on the walls and they check out the posters going up, Mitchell said. “We’re taking the pulse of the population,” he said.
Army 1st Lt. Shelby Wilson, another Guardsman, told the secretary that the teams look at all the nuances behind the scenes. “We don’t know what piece of information will be important somewhere else,” he told Gates as they stood in the street. “What we turn in may be the small piece of the puzzle that makes it clear farther up the chain of command.”
Understanding the mood of the people, what they are concerned about and who worries them allows the 110th Maneuver Enhanced Brigade to better place its other elements. The teams – made up of two or three American soldiers and a translator – walk through the city or ride in a regular sport-utility vehicle in the country. The teams cover 63 rural villages and Gjilan. Team members meet all types and ethnicities of Kosovars and simply talk with them.
The teams also provide a way for the citizens of this new country to get their suggestions, complaints or grievances heard. “They see the patch, they’ll talk to us,” Wilson told Gates. “We have to build trust and confidence with these people.”
It takes a special person to work the teams, for which no military occupational specialty exists. “We have infantrymen, artillerymen, cooks, medics, you name it,” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Lederle, the brigade senior enlisted advisor. “We had a very stringent interview process after people volunteered. They have to be able to talk to people and then write their impressions and communicate them up the chain.”
Gates walked through the streets with Wilson. He saw businesses open and filled with people. He saw streets crowded with cars and pedestrians. And he saw people everywhere waving at the beat cops in the Army camouflage uniforms.