By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
CAMP BONDSTEEL, Serbia and Montenegro, Aug. 15, 2005 – In their place are orange roofs covering homes that have been rebuilt. Roughly 1,700 American servicemembers -- almost all National Guardsmen -- are part of the 17,000-man Kosovo Force helping provide the environment the province needs to recover.
Four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters fly over Kosovo in support of a troop visit by Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and USO celebrities on Aug. 15. Myers is visiting American troops deployed around the world to assess morale and to thank servicemembers. Photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, USAF (Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
NATO intervened in the province after then-Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic initiated ethnic cleansing against the Kosovar Albanians.
Americans today command Multinational Brigade East, headquartered here. Army Brig. Gen. William H. Wade II commands the unit, which includes Poles, Ukrainians and Lithuanians, among others.
The American side is predominantly a "composite" unit. Most Americans here are volunteers from the California, Kansas and Pennsylvania National Guards. The medical task force supporting the effort is made up of Army Reservists drawn from all over the Southeastern United States. "I have got portions of 42 different units from 27 states," Wade said during an interview. "I'm amazed at how well they work together."
The guardsmen come from all over the U.S. and demonstrate to the people of the region that diverse populations can work together. "They see black and white and Oriental and American Indian," Wade said. "They see Catholic, Jews, Protestants and Muslims. They see men and women working together, and we set the best example, I believe, that can be set for the people of Kosovo."
"The Guard ... is uniquely able to do this," Wade said. "We bring our civilian skills to this mission. We have attorneys; we have firemen; we have chiefs of police; we have (chief executive officers) of corporations; we have city managers. Those are the kind of skills that we bring here."
Servicemembers deployed here maintain the job in Kosovo is not yet done. "There are still men preaching hate around here," said Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Darren Dreher, a Pennsylvania Guardsman who flies Black Hawk helicopters.
Army Spc. Paul Roath and Cpl. McKindree Perrin, both of the Kansas Guard, know this well. Roath, a field artilleryman, and Perrin, a tanker, patrol the region on foot and in vehicles. They search for arms caches, conduct cordon-and-search missions, and work with local and international police. "We work with the people on a very positive basis," Roath said. "They like us. They know the United States stepped in to stop this country from going into chaos."
Spc. Stefanie Davison, a guardsman from Bellingham, Wash., agreed, saying that Serbs and Albanians living in the province tell her: "Because of us, they can live in peace."
Cpl. Danielle Grudzinski, an aviation specialist from the Pennsylvania Guard, said she believes local residents are beginning to understand not just freedom, but also the responsibility that goes with it. "On Earth Day this year, we worked with children from around the area to clean streets," she said. "Now I notice they are taking responsibility for cleaning the streets themselves, and there are other encouraging signs just since we have been here in February."
Wade said the unit has seen progress. "We see the institutions of self-government start to move forward," he noted.
In March 2004, there were a number of violent clashes between Albanians and Serbians. These may have served as a turning point for the province. "After the March riots, I believe all the people realized that it is in their best interest to cooperate and to move forward to whatever the future holds for all the people of Kosovo," Wade said.