Soldiers from the California Army National Guard's 79th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) successfully completed a Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRX) on Feb. 12 at Camp McGregor, New Mexico, in preparation for an upcoming nine-month security and stabilization mission in Kosovo.

On Jan. 23, the Soldiers from Headquarter and Headquarters Company (HHC), 79th IBCT, arrived at Fort Bliss, Texas, where they completed finance, medical, and dental processing. They then headed 30 miles north to Camp McGregor, where they conducted Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP) training, a staff exercise (STAFFEX), and the MRX, which simulated the duties and roles they would perform as a brigade staff once in Kosovo.

"This is a great training opportunity for the Brigade to prepare and train for peace support operations in Kosovo," said Maj. Edwin Rodriguez, the Brigade Operations Officer. "The training at Camp McGregor enables the Brigade staff to shape and establish common operating procedures typically found among multinational staffs in Kosovo."

The training at Camp McGregor was conducted by the 5th Armored Brigade's 1st Battalion, 360th Infantry Regiment, also known as Task Force Warhawg, commanded by Lt. Col. Rob Paolucci.

"Task Force Warhawg trains and validates post-mobilized National Guard and Reserve units across the armed forces in preparation for worldwide deployment," Paolucci said. "The purpose of the MRX was to train and prepare the 79th for a final validation exercise at JMRC (Joint Multinational Readiness Center) at Hohenfels, Germany."

Paolucci said the 79th came together as a brigade staff during the MRX and is well positioned to successfully complete the validation exercise at JMRC and then take on the role of the command element for Multinational Battle Group -- East (MNBG-E) in Kosovo.

MNBG-E is a composite brigade, consisting of U.S. Army active duty, National Guard, and Reserve elements, as well as units from several NATO-member nations.

"This is a peacekeeping operation," Paolucci said of the mission in Kosovo. "We are there at the request of the government of Kosovo to assist in providing a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement throughout their country."

Now that the 79th has completed its training at Camp McGregor, it now heads for Hohenfels and the final validation exercise.

"The brigade validation at JMRC affords the staff the ability to bridge multinational interoperability functions with our European partners," Rodriguez said.

Once the validation exercise is completed, the 79th will arrive in Kosovo in March and relieve the 39th IBCT of the Arkansas National Guard.

"This mission is important in ensuring that peace is maintained in the Balkans," said Col. Nick Ducich, Commander of the 79th IBCT. "Our Soldiers are well trained professionals and are looking forward to assisting the institutions of Kosovo toward stability and sustainability while strengthening our enduring relationships with allies and partners."

Kosovo was a province of Serbia until 1999, when it became a protectorate of the United Nations following the Kosovo War. Kosovo Force (KFOR), a multinational NATO peacekeeping force, was formed to bring safety and stability to the province, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Kosovo's independence is not recognized by a number of states, including China, Russia, and India.

The U.S. Army National Guard has been a major contributor of troops to the KFOR mission, which is the longest peacekeeping mission in NATO history. California Army National Guard Soldiers have participated in several KFOR rotations. The 79th IBCT will be part of the 24th rotation of U.S. troops into Kosovo.

Sgt. Marc Brakefield, the Brigade's Civil Affairs Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge, is no stranger to deploying. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2012-13 and to Kosovo in 2009-10.

"I love it," Brakefield said of deploying. "I love the camaraderie, the learning aspect of working with Soldiers from different backgrounds and roles. I'm very excited to see how Kosovo has changed since I was last there."