FORT BLISS, Texas -- Whether it's blistering hot, freezing cold, or pouring rain, nothing is stopping the training of the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry Regiment, 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oregon National Guard, as they prepare to assume peacekeeping duties with NATO's Kosovo Force mission.
The mission is very different than the training for combat most of the Guard Soldiers of this infantry battalion have experienced. First Army observer coach/trainers were with them every step of the way to evaluate their progress in this new dynamic.
"It's pretty exciting to me," Sgt. Patrick Gunn, assistant to team lead for the liaison monitoring team, 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry Regiment. "This is the deployment I am definitely looking the most forward to. I've never done this before and I'm looking forward to the mission, working with foreign militaries, and being part of NATO."
The Kosovo Force, or KFOR, mission has existed since 1999. Set up after the end of NATO's 78-day air campaign, which aimed to push Yugoslavian forces out of Kosovo, KFOR includes nearly 4,000 troops from 28 countries. KFOR is deployed in the Balkans to maintain a safe and secure environment, freedom of movement for people in Kosovo and to facilitate the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkans. The United Nations, the European Union and other international actors continue to support the development of a stable, democratic, multi-ethnic and peaceful Kosovo.
To this end, the transition from a combat environment to a peacekeeping role requires an approach that emphasizes the integration of forces with the local populace.
"I've deployed twice before to Iraq and Afghanistan," explained Gunn. "This is a completely different role, completely different mindset. We are going to Kosovo to blend into the community, to be a part of the population and talking to them versus a combat role. This is nothing that I've done before."
Members of the unit will be split into two teams. One team's training mirrors the mission they will have patrolling what is known as Kosovo's administrative boundary line that separates Kosovo from Serbia. The second team will do "pulse patrols," going from location to location to interact with residents of Kosovo and help with any humanitarian needs.
With the unit split evenly between Soldiers who have deployed before and those who haven't Gunn's experience is a resource for Soldiers such as 1st Lt. Parker Mooney.
"Every day as I learn more about the mission, I get more excited," said Mooney, liaison monitoring team officer in charge. "I'm kind of at the point where I just want to be over there. I feel like as I have talked to family, most don't know where Kosovo is located. But as part of the LMT, we get to be in the community and see the change of positive impact."
As with any overseas deployment, families are foremost in the minds of these Citizen-Soldiers. Sgt. Cody Clyde, team leader for the liaison monitoring team, says his family's sacrifice can inspire his children to serve others. Clyde has been serving for 10 years.
"I want to be an example to my children," explained Clyde. "I want them to see me put on the uniform, and when they are older I hope they are proud. I hope it inspires them to go into some service to the country, whether it's military or Peace Corps. I want them to seek opportunities to go out and do things for their communities."
The partnership between First Army and the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry Regiment, for KFOR has been a strong bond built over more than a year.
"We start early to build rapport and trust," said Capt. Jeremy Kinder, Bravo Team chief, observer coach/trainer, 2nd Battalion, 357th Infantry Regiment, 189th Combined Arms Training Brigade, First Army. "We want them to know we have their best interests at heart and will help make them successful. We learn about them inside and out. We know their friction points and where they shine. Whether it's Active, Guard, or Reserve, we are one Army, one fight."
The attention to detail in training that First Army offers has been noticed by partners.
"I think First Army has done a really great job of identifying and focusing on the key points of what everybody's roles will be overseas," explained Gunn. "They have been ensuring we are ready for those jobs, and anything extra that may come our way, so we can do our mission and come home safely."
Clyde's bond with First Army goes back even further.
"In both deployments, First Army has been the validators and mentors for my unit's training," said Clyde. "They have been very good at helping us shine where we are strong and help us strengthen our shortcomings. It's clear they want us to be successful as we go to deploy overseas and they focus on us being mission-ready before we leave."
For Mooney, the partnership with First Army has been positive.
"This has been my first interaction with First Army," said Mooney. "They adapt to our needs as our strengths and weaknesses appear. They do what it takes to make us shine and tighten up anything we may need so we get the most effective training."
This attention to detail stands out because it wasn't always this way before a deployment.
"In previous deployments the first time we ever saw any partnership or mentorship was late in the game at a mobilization site," said Lt. Col. Kyle Akers, battalion commander, 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry Regiment. "With First Army, they have been with us since we were identified for this mission more than a year ago. They helped us forecast what was coming our way so we could maximize training and benefit our Soldiers."
Because they have been mentored by First Army and the 1st Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment of the Alaska National Guard, which the unit will replace, Akers is confident about the mission.
Being National Guard, many of the Soldiers believe they are bringing some helpful skill sets from their civilian careers to this specific mission. Gunn is a security contractor in his civilian career, which he believes helped him develop skills to interact with the local populace in Kosovo during patrols.
"That's what makes the Guard unique in a lot of ways," explained Gunn. "I know there are a lot of unique skill sets in our teams that are going to be an added bonus for this deployment."