CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo (Dec. 30, 2015) -- U.S. Army and Swiss Soldiers, assigned to NATO's Kosovo Force, or KFOR, peace support mission, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Zupce, Kosovo, Dec. 21, to mark the changeover of land back to its local owners.

The site had been known as Camp Cabra, a KFOR facility used since 2011 as a staging base for small elements of KFOR Soldiers. Due to an improved security situation in the area, Camp Cabra is no longer needed by KFOR, and the personnel have been restationed to other existing KFOR facilities in northern Kosovo.

During the ceremony, KFOR Soldiers, from Switzerland and the United States, thanked local landowners and leaders, and presented them with certificates of appreciation before formally ending KFOR's use of the site.

"It is quite an accomplishment that citizens in the Camp Cabra area have been able to work on resolving their issues, allowing KFOR forces to take on a more streamlined role of making sure a safe and secure environment is being maintained," said U.S. Army Col. Chris Selvey, deputy commander for Multinational Battle Group-East.

KFOR is a NATO force comprised of more than 30 nations, with Soldiers dedicated to ensuring safety, security and freedom of movement in Kosovo. When requested, KFOR works with and supports the Kosovo Police and European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo to accomplish its mission.

Selvey said that KFOR's local Swiss liaison monitoring teams would continue to work with the community in the future. In addition, it was made clear that the release of Camp Cabra must be seen in the context of the review of KFOR posture throughout Kosovo, to enhance its overall effectiveness. To be more specific, the return of the land to the original owners shouldn't be considered as a sign of the NATO disengagement from the area.

On the contrary, this move will allow for the unfixing of a considerable amount of Soldiers, previously involved in static tasks inside the camp. Therefore more personnel will be made available for mobile activities, such as motorized patrol, consequently increasing the presence and surveillance in the region and contributing to improve the overall security situation.

Before the changeover could happen, a two-month land restoration project took place that involved U.S. and Swiss KFOR Soldiers working together to restore and improve the site.

U.S. Army Maj. Joel Pierce, the senior engineer assigned to Multinational Battle Group-East Kosovo Forces, or MNBG-E, said he worked with the Swiss liaison and monitoring teams, or LMTs, to coordinate with the land owners and local municipality.

"It was a great feeling to be part of a major engineering project here in Kosovo," Pierce said. "Not only did we remove the camp, but we also reshaped the land in a way that left it better than when we found it."

Pierce was also responsible for the project's budget and operational planning, and worked with U.S. contractors and Area Support Team, or AST,-Balkans during the process. AST-Balkans is a U.S. element at Camp Bondsteel, which provides logistical support to MNBG-E's rotating U.S. forces.

Pierce said the project's biggest challenge was integrating its budget and timeline with the landowners' needs.

U.S. Army Maj. Samuel King is MNBG-E's deputy logistics officer and a licensed engineer with a background in road and highway infrastructure, who was instrumental in the project's completion. Pierce and King are both Army National Guard officers with civilian careers outside their military duties.

"With Pierce and King working on this project, the command was able to highlight the fact that two citizen-Soldiers used their civilian expertise on this critical mission," Selvey said. "They made it possible to take this task to another level of reconstruction."

During the ceremony, Pierce thanked the landowners for their patience during the restoration process and introduced Swiss Lt. Col. Sebastian Neuhaus, the chief of operations assessment for KFOR's Joint Regional Detachment-North, or JRD-N, to speak on their behalf.

"As a representative for JRD-N, I would like to express my gratitude to the land owners for a very good collaboration," Neuhaus said. "I would also like to thank the LMTs, and my American colleagues for their outstanding work in all the efforts involving this project."

In his closing remarks before the ribbon cutting and presenting certificates of appreciation, Selvey emphasized KFOR's dedication to its mission throughout Kosovo.

"The appreciation we have for the citizens allowing us to use this land, has allowed the KFOR forces to make sure we have a safe and secure environment in this area of Kosovo."

"What you have displayed here with the closing of this property shows the advancement of the people in Kosovo becoming united," he said. "I applaud your cooperation and ability to continue moving forward."