Approximately 150 Soldiers of the 106th Aviation Regiment, Illinois National Guard, recently deployed to Kosovo as part of the United Nations mandated NATO led peacekeeping force.
Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, called the U.S military role on the KFOR Task Force, "A very sophisticated, nuanced mission at a time that's probably as critical in Kosovo as any time in their history. It's exciting to see the National Guard responsible for the American contribution to guarantee a safe and secure environment for a nation that has just literally been born."
The Soldiers are currently undergoing pre-deployment training in Europe. In June they will begin their flights to Kosovo.
The mission, called KFOR for Kosovo Force, will require the 106th to fly their helicopters around Kosovo, moving personnel and equipment on humanitarian, peacekeeping and medical aid missions. Other KFOR tasks include security of ethnic minorities, relocation of displaced persons and refugees, civil affairs, and reconstruction.
"This is a different environment and mission from our last deployment," said Lt. Col. Jeff Becker, commander, 106th Aviation Regiment. "Roughly 50 percent of these Soldiers deployed to Iraq and conducted air movement operations in 2003-2004."
"We are going to fly the helicopters into Kosovo after pre-deployment training in Germany. Our entire mobilization is scheduled for 12 months, so we should have approximately eight or nine months of boots on the ground in Kosovo," said Chief Warrant Officer Rich Fayman, Illinois National Guard officer in charge of the Blackhawk helicopter mission.
A major component of this peacekeeping mission was getting the unit's UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from Illinois to Kosovo.
On April 30 the 106th flew 11 Black Hawks to Charleston, S.C., where the Surface Deployment Distribution Command's 841st Transportation Battalion took over.
"Transporting the Blackhawks is different than other military cargo," said Sgt. 1st Class Jones, 841st. "We coordinate for the ship arrival and all other cargo, but the aviation unit breaks down, loads, and un-loads the helicopters onto the ships themselves."
The 841st managed the large task of getting the helicopters transported from Charleston to Europe via ship. Master Sgt. Kevin Young, 841st cargo specialist, deployed to Bosnia in 2000 as part of the KFOR mission.
"I know how important this mission is to the people in Kosovo, said Young. We will make sure that all of the deploying soldiers' cargo will be shipped safely, securely, and efficiently to their deployment area in Kosovo," said Young.
Kosovo has been under United Nations protection since 1999 after NATO intervened to halt Slobodan Milosevic's repression of the Kosovo province's ethnic Albanians, who make up about 95 percent of its population.
After years of civil unrest, Kosovo officially declared independence from Serbia Feb. 17. Although the U.S. and its neighboring countries Croatia, Hungary and Bulgaria, have officially recognized and independent Kosovo, members of the European Union and United Nations are divided.
The Kosovo Parliament debuted the flag for the world's youngest country in February. Kosovo's flag depicts a yellow map of the province on a blue background with six white stars. The colors are representative of Kosovo's aspirations for entry into the European Union and United Nations.
The United Stated is part of KFOR Task Force East with Armenia, Greece, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Ukraine. The entire KFOR Task Force is comprised of 39 nations.
(Editor's Note: Capt. Chris LeCron is the public affairs officer and military journalist for 841st Transportation Battalion (seaport). Master Sgt. Kevin Young is the photojournalist for the same unit. Illinois National Guard Public Affairs and KFOR Public Affairs contributed to this article.)