By Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hagburg, 116th Public Affairs DetachmentMarch 3, 2010
STRPCE/SHTERPCE, Kosovo - Chess players from the Kosovo Albanian and Kosovo Serbian communities as well as Soldiers from Ukraine, Poland and the United States got together at a multi-ethnic chess tournament in Strpce/Shterpce on Feb. 27.
The event was put on by the Strpce/Shterpce municipality in the city's Culture House. Soldiers from Multi-National Battle Group-East's Regional Liaison Monitoring Team (RLMT) and the Battle Group Engineers helped facilitate the event.
"One of our contacts in Strpce is a big chess player," said Capt. Thomas Romero, Las Cruces, N.M., of Liaison Monitoring Team 7. "About six weeks ago, he asked about the possibility of getting a chess tournament together. I told him that we would be interested only if it was multi-ethnic. We said if they could get a team of Kosovo Albanians to attend we would see about getting a U.S., Polish and Ukrainian team. "
Strpce/Shterpce is the largest Serbian enclave in southern Kosovo. Miodrag Kropljanin, who organized the tournament and served as captain of the team from Strpce/Shterpce, said it was the first time they had held a multi-ethnic tournament in the town.
"It gave people a chance to get together," he said. "It was good to have a meet not only with Albanians but with KFOR members. We are working on plans to have another tournament."
The players attending the tournament were divided into four teams of six members each: a Kosovo Serb team from Strpce/Shterpce, a Kosovo Albanian team from nearby Donja Bitina, a Ukrainian team and a composite team of four Polish Soldiers and two U.S. Soldiers.
"We kind of had a little trouble putting together a U.S. team, so we put the Polish and U.S. players together as one entity for this tournament," said Romero.
Staff Sgt. Vasile Insuratelu, Surprise, Ariz., and Spc. Jonathan Jorgensen, Fargo, N.D., were the two U.S. players.
Insuratelu, who works for MNBG-E's finance section, was selected to play in the tournament after winning the Camp Bondsteel tournament.
"The players are pretty good, especially the civilians," Insuratelu said. "This is my first international tournament. Of course, playing at Camp Bondsteel, after being born in Romania, for me that was an international tournament also."
Jorgensen of Charlie Company, 231st Maneuver Task Force, said that even though he was a little rusty to start out, he enjoyed the tournament.
"It's a good idea and has been a good experience," he said. "Hopefully, they do it some more."
Staff Sgt. Jesse Walstad, Bismarck, N.D., was one of the RLMT Soldiers who helped facilitate the tournament. He said being involved with a chess tournament was something new for him.
"I have never been to a chess tournament before," he said. "It was a lot more exciting than I thought it would be."
The tournament ended with the team from Strpce/Shterpce taking first place, the Donja Bitina team second, the Polish/U.S. team third and the Ukraine team fourth.
"This is the first time I have been involved in this kind of tournament and I am really glad to have us participate," said Idriz Iseni, captain of the Donja Bitina team. "It was a good opportunity for people of different nationalities, the Serbian Community and the Albanian community, to get together. I hope we'll have a chance to meet each other again."
While the military players needed to return to duty after the tournament ended, the Kosovo players, including team captains, Kroplianin and Iseni, hung around at the Culture Center and took advantage of the opportunity to play more chess.