FERIZAJ/UROSEVAC, Kosovo - U.S. Soldiers with Kosovo Forces (KFOR )12 Multi-National Battle Group-East's Task Force Aviation have been busy this rotation taking students to new heights.
Only they're not doing it with helicopters, they're doing it with language.
Command Sgt. Maj. Marion Erik Brakeman and Capt. Eric Seymore are two of the Soldiers involved in teaching "English as a Second Language" (ESL) to local high school students at the Ferizaj Youth Center.
Task Force Aviation is made up of aviation and aviation support units from South Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky.
Brakeman, the command sergeant major for Task Force Aviation, said the unit's English classes meet twice a week for two hours each. The unit inherited the classes from their U.S. KFOR aviation predecessors with KFOR 11. They primarily were from Alaska.
"A lot of the kids here in Kosovo learn English in high school, but we can provide that conversational English that they're not going to get from an Albanian who speaks English," Brakeman said. "They can learn it from an American. Even though, Kentucky, Virginia, and South Carolina - sometimes it's a little Southern English, in regard to what they were being taught before, which was Alaskan English. It's a little bit different for them, but they've adjusted well to southern speakers. They're doing well."
Seymore, Task Force Aviation Headquarters and Headquarters Co. commander, with the 2-151st Aviation Battalion in South Carolina, joked about how the group of students would come out of the experience with a southern twang.
"Everybody back home, when they found out I was going to be teaching English in Kosovo - they all think it's a hoot, 'cause they said there'll be a whole generation of kids in Kosovo that speak like a redneck from South Carolina," he said.
Brakeman said Task Force Aviation didn't bring a whole lot of professional teaching experience to the program, but, thanks to the students, they were able to get off to a quick start.
"There are students in the class that help us because they've been doing it so long, at least since KFOR 8," Brakeman said. "So that's been a big help. We've inherited this whole thing. We gained some good ideas on how to teach the classes, how to interact with them and from there we just kind of grew with them and adjusted with the students.
Brakeman said because there were so many students - averaging 65 per class - it could sometimes be overwhelming to new Soldiers not used to teaching, let alone teaching such enthusiastic youth.
"There'll be 10 or 12 of the students around you trying to speak while we're trying to teach them, he said. "They're very interested; they love to be in your face and talking with you. So if we have one Soldier - especially if they're new to it - and he's got 10 or 12 high school kids around him, it's kind of disconcerting for some of the younger guys."
Seymore said the classes always have been well-received by both the students and teachers. The Task Force Aviation Soldiers love their time with the students, as well.
"The kids have really responded well and we've had a ton of soldiers from Aviation just begging to go out and help," he said. "I think the Soldiers get more out of the experience, a lot of times, than the students do."
Brakeman said although it was the first time he taught ESL, he was instructing the advanced group.
"It's hard for me because I've got to do a lot of studying to do the harder English, which means I'm always in these books, these big thick books that I've got to study for in order to teach them."
This is Seymore's first time teaching ESL as well.
"I'm in the sales profession at home; I don't have any formal training at all with ESL, so it's been kind of a challenge for me to develop some of the lessons," he said. "The kids always keep us laughing - whether it's them trying to say something in English and it comes out funny or we try and say something in Albanian and it comes out funny. I think that's one reason the kids enjoy it so much is that we've built that relationship and we can all relax and really just enjoy each other and the time there."
While the students - and Soldiers teaching them - may cherish the memories, they won't have much longer to create those experiences. The plan is to eventually hand off the instruction of these classes to local instructors in the area -- college students from the University of Pristina.
Long after it is over, the program will hold a special place in Seymore's heart.
"It's one of the most rewarding things I've done in my life and the kids really appreciate it," Seymore said. "They really enjoy it and that means the world to me.