CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - The Chief of the National Guard Bureau traveled to Kosovo May 23-24 to meet with Soldiers and to learn more about the Guard's mission in the Balkans.
General Craig McKinley was joined on the trip by his senior enlisted advisor, Command Chief Master Sergeant Denise Jelinski-Hall. His party also included Lieutenant General Harry Wyatt, the director of the Air National Guard, and Major General Kelly McKeague, assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for National Guard Matters.
The Adjutant General of North Dakota, Major General David Sprynczynatyk, also made the trip with McKinley. It was Sprynczynatyk's third journey to Camp Bondsteel since North Dakota National Guard troops arrived in Kosovo in October 2009.
"I try to visit Kosovo at least every 12 months," said McKinley at a town hall meeting with Soldiers on May 23. "People at home sometimes forget what we are doing here. You are making a significant impact, and your mission is important to our national strategy."
McKinley began his visit with a lunch with Multinational Battle Group East (MNBG-E) Soldiers and Noncommissioned Officers of the Quarter. He then traveled by helicopter to Pristina to meet with the Kosovo Forces (KFOR) commander, Lieutenant General Markus Bentler of the German Army.
After returning from Pristina, McKinley and his staff held a town hall meeting with MNBG-E Soldiers at the Camp Bondsteel theater.
The meeting started with an update from Sprynczynatyk on the situation back home in North Dakota. Sprynczynatyk talked about the spring flood fight and the welcome home that redeploying Soldiers from Kosovo had received when they returned to North Dakota in mid-May.
"It's always great to travel to Camp Bondsteel," Sprynczynatyk told the Soldiers. "I appreciate everything you do. Thank you for your service."
McKinley and his staff introduced themselves to the troops and addressed questions the Soldiers had. The first question was about the amount of time Soldiers spent in training before they reach their deployment locations.
"We have the most competent and ready Army National Guard in history," said McKinley. "We are trying to get the post-mobilization training time down to a minimum."
Brigadier General Al Dohrmann, commander of MNBG-E, said one of the advantages of having officials like McKinley visit Kosovo is that it provides an opportunity to discuss issues like pre- and post-mobilization training. Soldiers also posed questions on early redeployment, reenlistment and retention bonuses, National Guard deployment rotations, early retirement and technician retirement.
"It doesn't look like this pace is going to let up any time in the future," said McKinley, referring to the nation's reliance on National Guard deployments. "I think the National Guard Soldiers and Airmen like this pace as long as we can give them a predictable rotation schedule."
McKinley closed the town hall by thanking all the Soldiers in Kosovo for their service. "Your dedication and patriotism epitomize the best of our nation," he said.
Sergeant Daryl Scarborough, a North Dakota Army National Guard Soldier from Fargo, ND, who serves on the Regional Liaison Monitoring team, said he felt honored that McKinley and his staff came to Kosovo to visit.
"He answered all of our questions and clarified some misconceptions some Soldiers had," said Scarborough. "It helped me to understand how important the mission in Kosovo actually is."
After the town hall, McKinley and his staff had dinner with the MNBG-E command and staff.
Sprynczynatyk told the command group that U.S. KFOR Soldiers were doing a tremendous job.
"It's great to talk to our young Soldiers here," he said. "They're having a tremendous experience that they'll never forget. They're enjoying their work, and they're making a difference for the people in Kosovo."