CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo — Winter officially started Sunday but the doldrums of short, dreary days had already taken hold at Camp Bondsteel and other enclaves for American soldiers who are part of KFOR.

“It’s cold. It’s dark. The days are long,” said Army Spc. Karen Ross, who works as a mechanic at Camp Bondsteel. “Anything that breaks up the monotony is welcome.”

Those welcome breaks are the specialty of Morale, Welfare and Recreation programmers who try to mix old standbys like celebrity visits, parties and movies with less conventional diversions.

“We try to be surprising,” said Lillian Quehl, MRW special events coordinator at Camp Bondsteel.

Quehl said MWR recognizes how a small event like a weekly poetry reading makes a big difference in a soldier’s life. “There isn’t too much to do here, so we try to make it interesting,” Quehl said.

For example, with the last rotation of soldiers, a survey uncovered an interest in poetry. So once a week, Quehl explained, MWR held a poetry night that turned into “15 Minutes of Fame,” an amateur hour where troops entertained each other.

American peacekeepers have rarely been allowed off base for recreation, but MWR is trying to change that with a tour of the nearby town of Urosevac and ski trips to Brezovica, the only ski area in Kosovo. The resort is so top-notch it was the backup to Sarajevo for the 1984 Winter Olympics.

“Getting people off base can make a big difference,” Quehl said.

This is the second time MWR will try to offer the ski trips. The ski days were supposed to start this week but were delayed because the resort, which just opened for the season on Monday, did not have a ski patrol and adequate medical staff, said Army Sgt. Steve Ducharme, a spokesman for Camp Bondsteel. Ducharme said MWR is trying to get people together who can act as a ski patrol unit.

Trips are expected to start in early January.

For about 20 euro each, soldiers will get a ski pass and equipment rental at Brezovica, which is about an hour’s bus ride from Camp Bondsteel.

The trips had been planned last year but were canceled after a number of incidents in the Serbian town of Strpce at the base of the mountain, Quehl said.

MWR also has offered four-day trips to Sofia, Bulgaria. It is working on twice-monthly excursions to Urosevac, where a guide will take troops to historic sites, conduct a tour and give troops a chance to shop somewhere other than the ubiquitous stores that sell pirated CDs.

Touring celebrities brought in by the USO and funded by corporate sponsors also are an important part of MWR.

On Monday, for example, actors Dennis Farina from “Crime Story” and “Snatch,” James Avery from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” Bill Brochtrup from “NYPD Blue” and Sheri Saum from “One Life to Live” will have a Handshake Tour, meeting with troops during lunch and posing for pictures and signing autographs throughout the day.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now