By Capt. Jason Sweeney, 69th Public Affairs DetachmentJuly 5, 2017
HOHENFELS, Germany - Kosovo Force, or KFOR, has been conducting a peace and security mission in Kosovo since 1999. The California National Guard has been part of the peacekeeping effort in Kosovo going back over a decade now.
For three weeks in June and July, 34 Soldiers with the Cal Guard's 115th Regional Support Group are at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at Hohenfels Training Area, Germany, to help train the Arkansas National Guard's 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which is conducting a validation exercise before deploying to Kosovo for a 9-month KFOR 23 rotation. The 115th is assuming the role of KFOR higher command (HICON - COMKFOR) during the exercise.
For the exercise, Col. Bruce Balzano, commander of the 115th RSG, is in the role of KFOR HICON commander. "The 115th's battle staff is comprised of veterans from Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation New Dawn and rotations in the Balkans," Balzano said. "We provide an experienced and capable mission command platform in order to provide realistic command and control during the 39th IBCT's final validation exercise."
Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Witt said his Soldiers at the 115th bring a wealth of experience to the training. "For the short train up time, they hit the ground running," Witt said. "We've got everything from logisticians, operations, human resources, combat arms experience, as well as Soldiers with a wealth of deployment experience. Their adaptability helped show their true professional abilities."
Kosovo, which has an Albanian majority, was a province of Serbia when ethnic tensions between the Albanian majority and Serbian minority escalated to violence in 1999. KFOR, a multinational NATO peacekeeping force, was formed to bring safety and stability to the province, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008. The peacekeeping mission has been successful but the KFOR mission continues indefinitely to ensure the peace continues.
The U.S. Army National Guard has been a major contributor of troops to the ongoing KFOR mission. The California Army National Guard's presence in the Balkans dates back to the Bosnian War in the early 1990s and through the present KFOR mission.
In preparation for its deployment, the 39th IBCT has been conducting realistic training simulating crowd and riot control, situational awareness patrol training, liaison monitoring team training, active shooter incidents, press conferences and other scenarios the troops may encounter in Kosovo. Once the training in Germany is complete, the 39th will deploy to Kosovo and assume control of KFOR's Multinational Battle Group--East (MNGB-E).
"The MNBG-E is conducting training that focuses staff and Soldiers on cultural awareness as well as a strong understanding of the political and economic considerations we should be aware of in NATO," 39th IBCT commander Col. Michael Spraggins said. "We are conducting training with our NATO allies to increase interoperability while conducting peacekeeping operations. Overall, we have enjoyed tremendous success preparing ourselves for the mission in KFOR."
Spc. Sarah Bates is a human resource specialist at the 115th. The exercise at Hohenfels is her first experience overseas. During the exercise, Bates and her fellow Soldiers at the 115th got a chance to see some of the country on cultural days.
"Germany is beautiful," Bates said. "I feel like I'm getting good training here and experiencing a new culture."