U.S. and other nations take up Russia's share of patrol duties in Kosovo
August 8, 2003
KAMENICA, Bosnia and Herzegovina — Russia’s pullout from Kosovo peacekeeping duties forced the remaining militaries to devise a plan to fill the gap.
With just enough international troops throughout Kosovo, KFOR introduced a temporary plan: Company-size elements from different nations would cover the area, in the American-run Multinational Brigade East, for a month at a time with help of a small group of Americans stationed there.
First came Spanish troops, then French, and now U.S. soldiers are working with Austrians.
“It’s a really large chunk [of area] for a company-size element,” said Capt. Thomas Gustafson of 640th Military Intelligence Battalion. “It’s fairly quiet, but it still has to be patrolled.”
For the local population, only the KFOR uniforms and the language that the troops speak have changed.
“With us working together, it promotes [the] multinationality, multi-ethnicity theme,” said Sgt. James Sparkman of the 320th Psychological Operations Company. “[A] theme that we are pushing.”
The big challenge was patrolling.
American troops at Camp Kamenica help incoming soldiers get oriented, learn the roads and people.
Normally, the transition period for rotation changes is at least two weeks, but the troops in Kamenica don’t have that luxury — they only get a couple of days.
American soldiers “try to straighten the learning curve a little bit” for incoming soldiers, said Capt. Jeff Hoose of the 415th Civil Affairs Battalion.
The plan allows a small group of American soldiers at Camp Kamenica to work closely with different nations’ troops for a month at a time to learn their ways and their equipment.
“It’s rewarding to work with multinational units,” Gustafson said. “They have many experiences to complement what we’re doing here.”
Austrian light infantry, for example, is better suited for the mountainous terrain around Kamenica with smaller four-wheel-drive vehicles and inexpensive pieces of equipment that allow them flexibility, he said.
While it is demanding to rotate every month from other sectors in Kosovo, there are some advantages.
“It’s experience you can draw from,” Hoose said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s also rewarding. Everything we do here is work, whether we’re working or sleeping, we’re building rapport.”
Most of the soldiers stationed in Kamenica have worked with other nations’ militaries before. For example, Hoose was in Honduras and Maj. Bill Kephart of the 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment was in Egypt during Operation Bright Star. But those were short deployments.
They hope the experience in Kosovo will help them in future joint operations. They have a head start, having learned how different militaries operate.
“I think peacekeeping support operations should not be a mission of one nation,” said Austrian Maj. Manfred Prantl. “I think [joining forces] will be the future of KFOR.”
In their spare time, Americans and Austrians have been learning from each other the popular sports in their home countries: football and soccer.
While the troops enjoy working together, they believe it would be easier if rotations lasted two months.
“Just as soon as they learn their area of responsibility, they’re gone,” Kephart said. “It forces them to learn quickly and that’s a lot of pressure.”
Even though some soldiers suggest that a longer rotation would be better, those left behind at the home bases eagerly await the soldiers’ return.
“Everybody’s short on personnel,” Kephart said.
He pointed out that Austrian troops covering for Prantl’s soldiers are spread thin trying to compensate for their compatriots who are now in Kamenica.