Kosovo Forces rotate during Transition of Authority ceremony

Kosovo Forces commander German Army Major General Erhard Buehler, right, shakes hands with the New Multinational Battle Group East Commander Col. Michael Schwartz following a transition of authority ceremony at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, April 1. (U.S. Army photo by Specialist Evan V. Lane)

Kosovo Forces rotate during Transition of Authority ceremony

By Todd Oliver, U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs
April 5, 2011

CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo -- Kosovo Forces, or KFOR, have been helping keep the peace and assisting with rebuilding efforts here for more than 12 years.

As with most U.S. military operations, Soldiers and the units they belong to, come and go.  KFOR is no different.

Out go the Soldiers assigned to the Puerto Rico National Guard and in comes their replacements from New Mexico.

It’s been done here time and time again, as the name of this rotation, KFOR 14, indicates, but that doesn’t mean that either the incoming or outgoing commanders are any less enthusiastic about the differences they’re making here for the lives of everyday people.

“This is my third tour, I really know the people here,” said outgoing Multinational Battle Group East Commander (MNBG-E), Col. Francisco Neuman.  “I had a lot of good relationships and great communication with Kosovo commanders.

“Between 2000, 2006 and now 2011 of course, the infrastructure was improved but the communications between Serbia and Albania (with KFOR and Kosovo security forces) was a huge change for the better,” he said.  “I saw this when they started talking to the other nationality mayors, it showed they had developed a good relationship.   These former rivals are now talking.”

Within two months of his arrival he discovered that the amount of area he was responsible for was going to double in size while the number of Soldiers under his command stayed the same.  Still they made it work. The key was the Liaison Monitoring Teams, or LMTs he explained.

“They’re the ones that go into the different municipalities and meet with the mayors and work with the people,” he explained. “I went to the LMT’s headquarters, run by the Swiss, and talked to them.  I explained that they were my eyes and ears here.”

Incoming commander Col. Michael Schwartz expressed a similar thought as he took a moment during a rehearsal that gave him command of MNBG-E recently.

“We have a lot more area to cover,” he explained.  “We have 380 kilometers of administrative border line and 110 kilometers of border to cover between Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia.  It does stretch the Soldiers thin a bit, but because of progress of the institutions of security have made here through the years we just don’t need to do as many presence patrols.

“The institutions that are involved in security here, especially the Kosovo Police, have improved greatly over the last decade.  They’re doing so well our presence just isn’t needed as much as it used to be,” he said.

“When you see the contributions that our guard and reserve make to the mission, it’s truly phenomenal.   Col. Schwartz has brought together soldiers from a variety of states under the flag of New Mexico for this mission.  They have to be very adaptable as we continue to evolve through the gates in Kosovo,” United States Army Europe Commanding General Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling said after the ceremony.

“The things we learned here, in terms of how to work with locals.  When you see the audience here today they are local partners from Bosnia, Macedonia and Kosovo and also our multinational partners from Ukraine, France, Germany and Greece,” Hertling added.

And the NATO secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, agrees.

“The security conditions in Kosovo continue to improve, which is a positive sign not only for Kosovo, but for the whole region. Local institutions are increasingly capable of assuming responsibility for security tasks.    KFOR will remain able to deploy forces quickly and effectively whenever and wherever necessary, including with robust reserves.  KFOR’s mission to guarantee a safe and secure environment in Kosovo remains unchanged,” according to a NATO press release regarding the current situation in Kosovo.

The one incident that did draw Kosovo back into the international spotlight recently was the much reported violence against U.S. Airmen at the Frankfurt airport, in Germany.  While one negative instance can sometimes cause the world’s news cycle to spin for days, the relative quiet peace that has been the standard in Kosovo for years remained the constant.

“It didn’t change anything for us here, in fact the mayors called or wrote saying how sorry they were about the incident in Frankfurt and how much they appreciated our presence here.  There was no change in our sector or in any other sector in Kosovo,” Neuman said.

Schwartz agreed.

“At the very most it was a small blip on our radar.  It’s unfortunate that anyone would want to harm anyone in this world.  Sadly we are talking about U.S. service members so that’s near and dear to our heart, but there are people out there that want to do bad things and that doesn’t in any way reflect on Kosovo in our minds,” he said.

While the international numbers in Kosovo in the surrounding areas number somewhere around 5,000, there are more than 700 U.S. Soldiers in Kosovo as a part of that mission.  These Soldiers, according to a KFOR press release, come from 22 different states and include Soldiers with jobs as diverse as military intelligence, aviation and financial support.

“The story of Kosovo is a success story both for Kosovo and NATO.  We’ve been able to successfully draw down forces here without any major security problems.  It’s a legacy of success, we once had, I think nearly 50,000 Soldiers here and now we (the international community) have approximately 5,000 or 6,000.   That’s a big decrease,” Schwartz said.

“I don’t know what will set KFOR 14 apart from the other rotations.  I haven’t given it any thought; I just hope to hold the banner that all those before us have raised pretty high and to maintain the same level of professionalism and competency of all the previous 13 international rotations before us ,” he concluded.