Camp Bondsteel, KOSOVO – When joining the Army National Guard, Soldiers can choose their job, or military occupational specialty (MOS). One of the best parts of this is that they can choose a job similar to their civilian careers, or they can choose an MOS that is completely different to add to their tool belt.
When a group of Indiana National Guard Soldiers found out they were heading to Kosovo, they had no idea how valuable their skills learned from being civilian police officers would be to the peacekeeping mission they signed up for.
Staff Sgt. Derek Rine is currently serving as a squad leader within Bravo Company with the 2-151st Infantry Battalion stationed at Camp Nothing Hill, Kosovo. At home, he is a state trooper for the state of Indiana.
“I’ve always enjoyed the military aspect of my life and being able to help people, and I saw the correlation between military and law enforcement to where I can still help people in a way that I feel makes a big difference,” Rine said. “Protecting people and trying to make my community a better, safer place to live.
From the beginning of his police career, his main goal has been helping the people in the communities he lives in. No matter the community Rine calls home, he feels called to protect its safety and security.
From enlisted to officers alike, there is no denying the advantage that they bring to the Kosovo Force (KFOR) mission with the expertise they have acquired from serving as police officers in their hometowns.
Capt. Jesse Morganthaler is currently the commander of the Liaison Monitoring Teams that operate out of Camp Bondsteel. He has served on the Elkhart City Police Department in Indiana for eight years in the uniformed division.
“I think the biggest thing is probably the ability to talk to the civilian population. It’s something that officers do everyday,” Morganthaler said. “Whether it’s a mayor or talking to Kosovo Police chiefs, obviously there’s some connection there just because of the backgrounds.”
Morganthaler says he always knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a police officer. He had no original plans to join the military until he was figuring out how he would pay for college.
“I joined the National Guard to pay for college, not knowing that I could make a career out of it,” admitted Morganthaler. “Law enforcement just kind of brings something new everyday which is one of the reasons I wanted to get into the field and the military.”
The leadership roles of a National Guard Soldier play a key component in a wide variety of other civilian occupations. Morganthaler plans on taking his experience in his leadership role from the KFOR mission and applying it to his civilian law enforcement position.
“Having to balance personalities and get everyone on the same page to accomplish the mission is similar to what I would have to do back home as a patrol sergeant,” explained Morganthaler. “I think that the leadership stuff that I’ve learned here, kind of the pains of the deployment, will hopefully translate to me progressing myself back home and into a leadership role.”
The correlation between civilian law enforcement and the mission of these Soldiers in Kosovo doesn’t stop with leadership skills, but also includes the ability to understand complex security challenges, according to Lt. Col. Jared Sheets.
Sheets has served over 15 years as a police officer with the Fishers Police Department in Indiana and is currently serving as the battalion commander for the 2-151st Infantry Battalion, serving as the maneuver battalion for KFOR Regional Command-East.
“That experience in law enforcement and the challenges that they face as law enforcement officers back home also enables them to demonstrate empathy towards the struggles of the communities in Kosovo,” Sheets said. “This experience is invaluable and it’s only possible through their service in the National Guard as a citizen-Soldier and cannot be replicated in the Active Component.”
According to Sgt. 1st Class Dexter Whitten, an Indiana State Trooper in the Lafayette District who is currently serving as a platoon sergeant within Bravo Company with the 2-151st Infantry Battalion stationed at Camp Nothing Hill, his team’s mission in KFOR is similar to his mission back home, despite not being the first responders for law enforcement in Kosovo.
“We are here as more eyes and ears,” Whitten said. “We coordinate with the local police and bring things to their attention so they can [respond] to it.”
For these Soldiers, their civilian careers have allowed them to make more meaningful connections with members of the Kosovo Police when they interact with one another.
One Soldier has noticed the difference it can make when developing working relationships with Kosovo Police officers.
1st Sgt. Wayne Wilkie has been with the Warsaw City Police Department for 21 years. Currently, he serves as the first sergeant for Bravo Company with the 2-151st Infantry Battalion at Camp Nothing Hill.
“When my commander and I go out to do the key leader engagements with the police officials, you can see the demeanor in their faces change once I introduce myself and tell them that I’m a police officer,” said Wilkie. “They tend to open up more and talk more freely and they feel more comfortable.”
The main effort for the KFOR mission is to provide a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities in Kosovo. This effort is nearly identical to the goals of local law enforcement agencies in the United States.
“A safe and secure environment is exactly what civilian law enforcement strives to do and really enable people in their communities to feel that they live in a safe environment and they don’t have to modify or change their lifestyles based on threats from outside sources,” expressed Sheets. “So that is exactly what we do here in Kosovo.”