FORT BLISS – Whether it’s blistering hot, freezing cold, or rain soaking from head to toe, nothing is stopping the training of the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry Regiment, 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oregon National Guard as they prepare to assume duties with NATO’s Kosovo Force mission.
The unit is preparing for a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, a mission very different than the training for combat most of the Guard Soldiers of this Infantry battalion have previously experienced. First Army Observer Coach/Trainers were with them every step of the way to evaluate their progress in this new dynamic.
“It’s pretty exciting to me,” Sgt. Patrick Gunn, assistant to team lead for the Liaison Monitoring Team, 2nd Bn., 162nd Inf. Regt. “This is the deployment I am definitely looking the most forward to. I’ve never done this before and I’m looking forward to the mission, working with foreign militaries, and being part of NATO.”
The Kosovo Force, or KFOR, mission has existed since 1999. Originally set up following the end of NATO’s 78-day air campaign, which aimed to push Yugoslavian forces out of Kosovo, KFOR is made up of nearly 4,000 troops from 28 different countries.
KFOR is currently deployed in the Balkans to maintain a safe and secure environment, freedom of movement for all citizens in Kosovo and to facilitate the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkans. The United Nations, the European Union and other international actors continue to support the development of a stable, democratic, multi-ethnic and peaceful Kosovo.
To this end, the transition from a combat environment to a peacekeeping role requires an approach that emphasizes integration of forces with the local populace.
“I’ve deployed twice before to Iraq and Afghanistan,” explained Gunn. “This is a completely different role, completely different mindset. We are going to Kosovo to blend into the community, to be a part of the population and talking to them versus a combat role. This is nothing that I’ve done before.”
During this process members of the unit are being split into two different teams. One team’s training mirrors the mission they will have patrolling what is known as Kosovo’s Administrative Boundary Line that separates Kosovo from Serbia. There, teams set up entry control points and ensure that there is safety and security as well as freedom of movement for the citizens of Kosovo.
The second team is called a Liaison Monitoring Team. This team will do what are called “pulse patrols.” These patrols go from location to location to interact with the residents of Kosovo and help with any humanitarian needs.
With the unit split evenly between Soldiers who have deployed before and those who haven’t, Gunn’s experience is a resource for Soldiers such as First Lt. Parker Mooney, giving him the comfortability to focus on the mission at hand.
“Every day as I learn more about the mission, I get more excited,” said Mooney, Liaison Monitoring Team Officer in Charge, 2nd Bn., 162nd Inf. Regt. “I’m kind of at the point where I just want to be over there. I feel like as I have talked to family, most don’t know where Kosovo is located. But as part of the LMT we get to be in the community and see the change of positive impact.”
As with any overseas deployment, families are foremost in the minds of these Citizen-Soldiers. Sgt. Cody Clyde, team leader for the Liaison Monitoring Team, 2nd Bn., 162nd Inf. Regt., says despite the time away from his family, their mutual sacrifice can serve as an inspiration to his children to live a life that serves others. Clyde has been serving for ten years, with this being his second deployment, serving past his initial enlistment contract to continue that model of service.
“I want to be an example to my children,” explained Clyde. “I want them to see me put on the uniform, and when they are older I hope they are proud. I hope it inspires them to go into some service to the country, whether it’s military or Peace Corps. I want them to seek opportunities to go out and do things for their communities.”
Building Strong Bonds of Partnership
The partnership between First Army and the 2nd Bn., 162nd Inf. Regt., for KFOR has been a strong bond built over more than year.
“We start early to build rapport and trust,” said Capt. Jeremy Kinder, Bravo Team Chief, Observer Coach/Trainer, 2nd Battalion 357 Infantry Regiment, 189th Combined Arms Training Brigade, First Army. “We want them to know we have their best interests at heart and will help make them successful. We learn about them inside and out. We know their friction points and where they shine. Whether it’s Active, Guard, or Reserve, we are one Army, one fight.”
The attention to detail in training that First Army offers with training has been noticed by their partners.
“I think First Army has done a really great job of identifying and focusing on the key points of what everybody’s roles will be overseas,” explained Gunn. “They have been ensuring we are ready for those jobs, and anything extra that may come our way, so we can do our mission and come home safely.”
Clyde’s bond with First Army go back even further.
“In both deployments First Army has been the validators and mentors for my units training,” explained Clyde. “They have been very good at helping us shine where we are strong and help us strengthen our shortcomings. It’s clear they want us to be successful as we go to deploy overseas and they focus on us being mission-ready before we leave.”
For Mooney, the partnership he has noticed with First Army has been a positive one.
“This has been my first interaction with First Army,” said Mooney. “They adapt to our needs as our strengths and weaknesses appear. They do what it takes to make us shine and tighten up anything we may need so we get the most effective training.”
This attention to detail stands out because it wasn’t always this way before a deployment.
“In previous deployments the first time we ever saw any partnership or mentorship was late in the game at a mobilization site,” said Lt. Col. Kyle Akers, Battalion Commander, 2nd Bn., 162nd Inf. Regt. “With First Army they have been with us since we were identified for this mission more than a year ago. They helped us forecast what was coming our way so we could maximize training and benefit our Soldiers.”
Because they have had mentorship from not only First Army, but from the 1st Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment of the Alaska National Guard, which the unit will replace, Akers feels confident in the roles of his teams in Kosovo.
Being National Guard, many of the Soldiers believe they are bringing some helpful skill sets from their civilian careers into this specific mission. Gunn is a security contractor in his civilian career, which he believes helped him develop skills to interact with the local populace in Kosovo during patrols.
“That’s what makes the Guard unique in a lot of ways,” explained Gunn. “I know there are a lot of unique skill sets in our teams that are going to be an added bonus for this deployment.”
Mooney also believes his civilian career, which involves a lot of planning, forward thinking, and interacting with people will help him achieve success as the Officer-in-Charge of the Liaison Monitoring Team.
“My skill sets I developed as a sales executive are playing right into that,” said Mooney. “The planning aspect and comfortability of talking with people, identifying their needs, and developing deeper levels of connection will be very helpful.”
The 2nd Bn., 162nd Inf. Regt. is deploying with their brigade headquarters 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oregon National Guard.