Kosovo-bound troops get riot training
Stars and Stripes June 12, 2008
HOHENFELS, Germany — The riot was staged but the blood was real for Kosovo-bound soldiers training here.
Some 1,000 active-duty, reserve and National Guard troops from seven states are at Hohenfels’ Joint Multinational Readiness Center getting ready for their summer deployment to Kosovo. On Tuesday, some of them faced off against hundreds of role players who staged a mock riot.
The soldiers — clutching plastic shields and wearing knee pads, shin pads, helmets and face masks — battled an angry mob that hurled wet sponges and buckets of water at them. Rioters, some played by members of 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, hurled themselves at the riot shields like running backs attempting to breach a defensive line.
One of the KFOR troops — Spc. Todd Wilson, 41, of Marceline, Mo. — took the brunt of one charge when his face mask came off and part of his gear slammed into his forehead, opening a nasty cut.
After the wound was bandaged, Wilson held a shield to protect another soldier with a simulated wound, while they waited for a recovery vehicle.
"I’ve learned a lot: How to set your front line up and how to march together and work as a team," he said of the training.
Col. William Johnson, chief of staff for Multinational Task Force East, said the training caps the buildup to this summer’s deployment.
"The training at Hohenfels is almost like being immersed in the Kosovo environment. They replicate the worst day you could ever have in Kosovo — that would be Kosovo-wide violence and turmoil throughout Multinational Task Force East," he said.
By Tuesday — three days into a two-week mission rehearsal — the KFOR personnel had dealt with missing personnel, local nationals getting killed, riots, demonstrations and weapons smuggling, Johnson said.
"Those are the sort of things that are not typically happening now but have happened historically. We are prepared for the worst day, but also to roll in and keep a good steady state," he said.
Multinational Task Force East — which includes Polish, Ukrainian, Romanian and Greek troops — is charged with peacekeeping along Kosovo’s border with Serbia, Johnson said. National Guard troops are well-equipped for the mission because it involves supporting the Kosovo government, he said.
"In the U.S., local government continues to run issues like law enforcement and when it exceeds their capabilities, the National Guard will come in. We are falling in on the same type of mission in a different environment," he said.
KFOR supports the Kosovo Police Service, which has missions such as border patrols to interdict drug smuggling and human trafficking and mans border checkpoints, he said.
KFOR also works hand-in-hand with the Serbians to make sure the border stays safe, Johnson added.
Another member of KFOR caught up in this week’s action was Spc. Cory Simmons, 19, of St. Joseph, Mo.
After the battle, Simmons said he’d done riot training before but none as violent as the Ubungsdorf training. The most exciting part of the riot was, "when they started smacking into us," he said, adding that he avoided the wet sponges and water.
"I stayed dry, it’s all sweat," he said of the droplets running down his face.