For Labinot Shabani, growing up in southeastern Europe in the late 1990s meant a childhood filled with pleasant and horrific memories.

Shabani, a contracting specialist with the Army Contracting Command-Aberdeen Proving ground, Md., was born as an Albanian Kosovar in the city of Gjilan in eastern Kosovo.

"It's a nice place and despite the conflict, I have a lot of fond memories from my childhood," recalled Shabani.

The origins of the conflict between Kosovo and its northern neighbor, Serbia, began many years before Shabani was born.

According to Britannica Encyclopedia, interethnic tensions resulted between the largely Muslim ethnic Albanians which outnumbered the predominantly Eastern Orthodox Serbs in Kosovo. And in 1998, an ethnic Albanian-led secessionist rebellion escalated into an international crisis, which culminated in 1999 with the NATO-led air bombardment of Serbia and Montenegro to stop the ethnic cleansing and the killing of Albanian Kosovars.

"As a child, I watched the continual violence on TV," Shabani said. "I could hear the bombings nearby and reports of burning villages."

In the spring of 1999, he received the news of his grandparent's home being set on fire and his grandparents killed.

"My parents were increasingly concerned for the safety of me and my two brothers," he said.

The United Nations provided humanitarian aid due to the escalation of violence and suffering in Kosovo and many people were transported to refugee camps in neighboring countries. In the early summer of 1999, Shabani left the only home he had ever known and headed to a refugee camp in Macedonia.

"We left with a couple of suitcases," Shabani said. "We went to a bus station near the Macedonia and Kosovo border to obtain transportation to a refugee camp. We spent the night at the bus station, sleeping in the lobby, and waited for clearance to enter Macedonia. The next day, we boarded a bus en route to a refugee camp not far from the Kosovo border. I witnessed refugees leaving Kosovo in cars, buses, tractors or whatever transportation they could find."

The Shabani family was assigned to a family tent within the camp. There, his family was provided food and other amenities to include schools and playgrounds for the children. It was here that Shabani met President Bill Clinton, accompanied by his wife, Hillary, and his daughter, Chelsea, during their visit to the camp.

"The camp was fine. I did miss my home and I knew my stay at the camp was temporary," he said. "I remember President Clinton's visit and how we all followed him around the camp. We idolized him. When President Clinton learned of our ordeal and my grandparent's passing, he asked to meet with my family. Through interpreters, my father described our story and of the other atrocities."

After a month in the Macedonia refugee camp, he and his family returned home.

"Once Kosovo was cleared of hostile forces and land mines, we were able to return," Shaban recalled. "We were apprehensive about what we would face when we returned to Kosovo. Many families had items stolen, burned or lost all of their belongings. Most of the damage was done in the surrounding towns and villages. Thankfully my home was not touched."

The family was offered the opportunity to seek refuge in the United States and was instructed to complete an application and the interview process.

"It was a difficult decision for my father," Shabani said. "Kosovo was our home where our friends and family lived. In the end, my father decided to do what he felt was best for me and my brothers. He wanted to give us an opportunity to be safe, receive a good education and live the American dream. "

With the decision made, the Shabani family applied for passports, completed the appropriate paperwork and was assigned a sponsor. On Aug. 2, 1999, the family boarded a plane headed for New York City en route to Baltimore, Md.

"We lived in a townhouse in Baltimore City," said Shabani. "It was a difficult transition and we didn't like it at first. I was the only one in the family who spoke English at the time and I had limited fluency."

The Shabani family had to adjust to the American way of life. Their father found work and Shabani and his brothers enrolled in school. They had to learn American customs, master a new language, comprehend the health system, develop community bonds, and understand the
educational system.

The Shabani's met another family from Kosovo who lived nearby and through their encouragement, the Shabani's moved from Baltimore to Aberdeen, Md.

"Language was the key barrier for me and my brothers," stated Shabani. "School was difficult and I was enrolled in an 'English as a second language' course to help with the adjustment. Once I overcame the English barrier, I did well in school."

In addition to learning a new language, the youth explored other avenues to adjust.

"I found the best method for integrating into my new school was through soccer," he said. "I played soccer in Kosovo, so I knew the sport. This is how I became involved and met friends. I was captain of the Aberdeen High School soccer team in my senior year."

Shabani graduated from Aberdeen High School and attended the University of Baltimore, earning a bachelor of science degree in finance and applied to ACC-APG as a contracting intern.

"I entered the intern program in 2009 and graduated last year," he said. "I have enjoyed the time here greatly. I get to work in a friendly environment where people respect each other and expect great things from everyone. It is very rewarding to know that what I do affects the Soldier in theatre and it underscores the importance of how effective I need to be on the job.

"I received great training that has allowed me to do my job efficiently. Throughout my three years with ACC-APG, I've experienced many types of acquisitions which have broadened my knowledge of the process," Shabani said. "I also consider my work at ACC-APG as a way to pay back for the opportunities that I was given."

Page last updated Wed November 28th, 2012 at 00:00