STUTTGART, Germany — The nature of alleged misconduct that led to the removal of leaders of a National Guard company deployed on a peacekeeping mission to Kosovo involved more than just forcing junior troops to do excessive exercise as part of an attempt to initiate soldiers, according to the mission commander at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo.
“It was physical. It was psychological. It was a range of tactics,” said Col. Jeffrey J. Liethen, who commands 750 troops assigned to Multinational Battle Group East in Kosovo. “Once the nature of the offenses are brought into the sunlight, I think this is going to open eyes wide shut.”
Military commanders declined to release a full accounting of the alleged misdeeds, citing the need for formal charges to first be filed. That should happen in about a week, commanders said.
The consequences for the 17 officers and noncommissioned officers removed could range from courts-martial and Article 15s — a nonjudicial punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice — to general officer memorandums and counseling, depending on the degree of culpability, U.S. Army Europe commander Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling said.
The USAREUR investigation began soon after a formal complaint was made in early February by a private in the unit, who reported a hostile work environment. Army criminal investigators learned there were widespread problems in the unit, Hertling said in an interview Thursday.
Liethen said the soldiers from Georgia’s 3rd Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment are in need of retraining to reverse the effects of a bad command climate.
“They’re elite,” said Liethen, referring to the company’s status as a surveillance unit. “And I think they carried that elitism too far.”
The Army has established methods for training, and it isn’t the role of a single company to devise tactics as part of an attempt to initiate and test whether certain soldiers are worthy to serve, Liethen said.
A team of soldiers from Hohenfels has been dispatched to Kosovo to work with the company of guard soldiers as part of an effort to prepare less-experienced soldiers to serve in positions of leadership.
“We had to take out some senior-level NCOs and officers and, as a result, we’ve moved some lower-level guys up to higher positions,” Liethen said. “They’re all new at this thing.”
The team from Hohenfels, which consists of two infantry platoons and a command team, will serve as mentors and trainers and also participate in missions.
Lt. Col. Mitchell Watkins, commander of the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment in Hohenfels, said his soldiers deployed to Kosovo last week.
“They’re going prepared to stay all the way through the rotation, as long as they’re needed,” Watkins said.
Liethen said the Georgia company is still able to conduct missions.
During the winter months, amid the cold weather and heavy snow, units conduct patrols and run vehicle checkpoints at the platoon level.
By spring, when there is more potential for tensions between Kosovars and Serbs, larger teams are needed on patrol. The next couple of months will be spent getting the soldiers prepared for those missions, Liethen said.
“When the weather breaks, and things potentially get sporty, then we’re looking at a company-level mission,” he said.
Stars and Stripes reporter Steven Beardsley contributed to this story.