CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo – NATO’s Kosovo Force officially welcomed the 30th rotation of U.S. Soldiers taking responsibility for the Regional Command – East mission during a transfer of authority ceremony here March 4, 2022.
The TOA ceremony hailed the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Vermont National Guard, as they relinquished responsibility for peace stability operations to the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Virginia National Guard.
“Soldiers of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, welcome to Kosovo,” Hungarian Army Maj. Gen. Ferenc Kajári, commander of KFOR, said during the ceremony. “You are taking over your duties in KFOR in a period when we face numerous challenges inside our area of operations and Europe as well.”
KFOR RC-East is comprised of more than 10 contributing NATO partner nations working to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all people in Kosovo. More than 70 NATO VIPs from multiple nations attended the ceremony.
During the ceremony, leaders from the 86th IBCT cased their unit’s flag, or colors, officially signifying the culmination of their nine-month mission in the region, followed by leaders from the 116th IBCT uncasing their unit’s colors, representing the beginning of their mission in Kosovo.
“Today’s ceremony marks much more than the normal nine-month rotational change of command ceremony,” said Col. Brey Hopkins, commander of the 86th IBCT and outgoing RC-East commander. “This ceremony is an indication of the United States’ commitment and resolve. Commitment and resolve to the NATO alliance and to the Balkans.”
Taking the helm as RC-East’s new commander was Col. Christopher Samulski, who’s been in command of the 116th IBCT since 2020, a year of which was focused on preparing for their unique mission as the main U.S. contingent in Kosovo.
“I’m convinced that lasting peace, safety and security is achievable through hard work, commitment and dialogue,” Samulski said. “And this gives me hope for the future of Kosovo and the greater Balkans region.”
To signify the official transfer of authority of the RC-East mission, leaders from the 86th IBCT passed the NATO flag to Kajári, who then passed the flag to the 116th IBCT command team. The passing of the flag from the outgoing commander to the incoming one ensures the command is never without official leadership, representing a continuation of trust while signifying an allegiance of Soldiers to their commander.
“The 29th rotation, the Vermont brigade, (set) the standard high,” Kajári said. “But I’m confident that you (the 116th IBCT) will excel in your tasks and will meet the requirements.”
Speaking at the ceremony, Samulski praised the work of the 86th IBCT Soldiers and expressed his commitment to carrying out NATO’s mission of maintaining a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all people and communities in Kosovo.
“Your hard work over the last year has been an absolute testament to your motto, Ready to Go,” Samulski said to the outgoing Soldiers. “As we put on this blue patch on our left shoulder, we understand the importance that holds. We will continue to uphold the tenets and values of NATO’s mission here in Kosovo.”