In 1999, the NATO-led Kosovo Force mission encountered a challenging security environment in Kosovo. Many issues existed at that time, including the threat of armed conflict, unexploded ordnance, shortages of water and electricity, and severe disruptions to freedom of movement. KFOR, in close cooperation with other international actors, re-established order and security, and in doing so, contributed enormously to the progressive development of a stable, multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo.
As a peace support operation, there have been countless opportunities for the communities and people of Kosovo to work alongside KFOR service members towards a better future. There have also been countless donations made to non-profit organizations with the goal of making Kosovo a better place for its residents.
Many working and providing services at KFOR’s Camp Bondsteel in southeastern Kosovo were born and raised in the area. They fulfill a wide range of jobs supporting multinational service members that are a vital piece towards supporting operations.
For two decades, Zyhrije Demaj has worked with various organizations in Kosovo, including the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, or UNMIK, European Union Rule of Law Mission, or EULEX, and now KBR, in support of the KFOR mission. She began her career as an interpreter translating Serbian and now finds herself as one of the fire prevention officers for KBR’s Fire and Rescue Department on Camp Bondsteel, where she’s worked for the past six years. She learned to speak Serbian before the war in school, where she shared classes with Serbian students.
“I used to work with Serbians and I had a good relationship with them; no matter what happened in the past, we have to look forward,” Demaj said. “We can continue to move forward because Kosovo has both Albanians and Serbians. I don't have any problems; we work together and live together here, so for me it's progress.”
Demaj was born in Gjilan, a town less than 30 minutes from Camp Bondsteel and about two hours from where the heart of the war took place in northern Kosovo. She recalls being in fear every day with her young daughter through the ongoing war at the time.
“Everybody was scared because nobody knew what could happen the next day,” she said. “Fortunately, we didn’t have any people hurt in my family but looking at the TVs and seeing what was going on in other places was scary.”
Currently, KFOR Regional Command-East is on its 30th rotation for the Kosovo Force. As the next rotation prepares to arrive in Kosovo, many civilians say they would like KFOR to remain in place due to the economic opportunities it provides, and the safety the mission brings to the region.
“From the beginning until now KFOR continues to maintain a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all the people of Kosovo and I wish they will stay here for a long time,” said Demaj. “This is really what we expected and we appreciate that even though we are getting so far in progress, we feel safer with them here.”
Amir Beqiri was born and raised in Ferizaj, just outside of Camp Bondsteel, and has been working for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service on post for 19 years. He was hired a few years after KFOR RC-East’s first rotation. The Camp Bondsteel Exchange offers essentials to troops throughout Kosovo and is the largest in the Balkans.
“I was locked in my home the entire time the war was going on. It was very difficult but after the war, things changed and we began building new lives,” said Beqiri. “We started rebuilding areas that were destroyed during the war, progressing towards a better future with KFOR.”
Beqiri states that he is glad and grateful that KFOR is maintaining the peace in Kosovo and is happy to be helping the troops of KFOR every day.
Ilir Geci has led and maintained the Camp Bondsteel music shop for more than 18 years, where he provides guitar lessons and assists in planning musical events for service members, such as the recent U.S. Independence Day concert featuring a local band playing popular American music for service members on Camp Bondsteel.
“It was a privilege and honor to have the chance to organize the Independence Day concert,’ said Geci. “I wanted somehow to show the appreciation for the soldiers for all of the guys who are serving here and somehow for one night make the soldiers feel like they are at home through quality music.”
Geci was raised in Gjilan by his parents, who were teachers. They taught him how to play instruments as a child. Years before the war began, he accepted a job as a medical professional in Switzerland. He recalls the war starting and losing all contact with his family.
“It was like a bad dream because you didn’t think that in a developed continent such as Europe, I could lose contact with my own family,” said Geci. “You don't know where they are and these are the things that would worry me the entire time.”
In 2004, he returned to Kosovo and was hired at the guitar shop. He states that through music, he can have members of EULEX, KFOR, the U.S. Embassy, and the United Nations all come together and enjoy learning, listening, and playing music while sharing different cultures.
“It is a blessing for one civilian to have the chance to be together with the Soldiers who are reasonable, logical, and people who love life,” said Geci. “What the Soldiers are doing on this mission is a blessing and I speak as a Kosovar that we all deserve to live in freedom and for our younger people who are still waiting to enjoy life.”