Missouri National Guard Plays Big Role In Kosovo

Missouri National Guard Plays Big Role In Kosovo
September 29th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Missouri National Guard Plays Big Role In Kosovo

Missouri National Guard Plays Big Role In Kosovo
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
September 28, 2008
Pg. B1

By Phillip O'Connor, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
More than 1,000 Missouri National Guard troops are on duty as part of a NATO-led peacekeeping force in the recently self-proclaimed independent country of Kosovo. The deployment is the largest single group of Missouri National Guard soldiers to mobilize together since World War I and represents about 10 percent of state guard forces. Most of the soldiers arrived in June and are scheduled to return home in March.
Serbia is challenging Kosovo's nationhood in the United Nations and claims sovereignty over the territory, a position supported by Russia and China. Divisions also exist within Kosovo. Violence has broken out between ethnic Albanians who support independence and ethnic Serbians who are opposed.
The National Guard soldiers from Missouri are led by Brig. General Larry Kay, a 47-year-old resident of Boonville. Kay was interviewed by phone last week from his headquarters at Camp Bondsteel, which is in relatively peaceful southeastern Kosovo.
Kay said the weather was rainy and misty with temperatures in the 40s. His comments were edited for brevity.
Q: What is the primary role of the Missouri Guard in Kosovo?
A: "We are here to maintain a safe and secure environment so that we can have a good effect on the civilian transition to the rule of law as well as maintaining freedom of movement. It's a very good mission for the National Guard because it's much like what the National Guard is used to doing - civil-military operations and dealing directly with the public."
Q: What kind of operations are the troops conducting?
A: "Some of their primary missions are to look at smuggling, It's been a war-torn area really since World War I. There's still a huge number of weapons and munitions. It's also consistently been a funnel for narcotics and even human trafficking. Those two things also help to fund weapons and arms trafficking.
We specifically look at the border between Kosovo and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. We're getting much better at sharing information with the Kosovo police so we can conduct joint operations. If there's anything that flares up of a military nature, we're here and available to shut that down very quickly."
Q: Has there been violence?
A: "We haven't fired a shot. We've seen people with AK-47s and different types of light arms, especially on the border. These are people (who) are escorting some of these black market goods. Typically, those shipments are armed. We believe it's more for the protection against other criminal elements."
Q: So you would act with the Kosovo police to intervene?
A: "That's exactly correct. What's happened on the incidents we've had so far is they've immediately turned around when they've seen us. So we have not had any type of direct engagement."
Q: Have Missourians deployed to some of the more volatile regions of the country?
A: "Our commander of Kosovo Forces is Giusesppe Gay, an Italian lieutenant general. His plan is to make sure his forces all throughout Kosovo are available all throughout Kosovo. We are an instrument for him to project that combat power anytime, anywhere, to maintain safety and security."
Q: Has Serbia and Russia's opposition to Kosovo's independence or the Russian military's recent entry into Georgia affected operations in any way?
A: "Events outside of Kosovo have not really impacted our mission here."
Q: Has anything surprised you about the deployment?
A: "The training for Kosovo is longer than the training to go to Iraq. It's longer than the training to go to Afghanistan. Because we have to know basic combat skills as well as communications skills. We do all the way from basic combat patrols, checkpoints, cordon and searches, working with the Kosovo police to almost true international diplomacy. The ability to communicate is truly the key to any of the success."
Q: What has been the biggest frustration?
A: "I don't know that I've really been frustrated. I will tell you that our days are very long. I eat when I'm starving and I go to bed when I'm exhausted. We are really looking at doing the best we can so that when we turn this over to the next group, somebody will look at us and say, 'Job well done.' "
Q: What worries you the most?
A: "The safety of our soldiers. We have a lot of moving parts every day. We're flying lots and lots and lots of hours. We're driving thousands of miles."
Q: What has been the greatest reward or satisfaction?
A: "The growth of these soldiers. This guy is a United States ambassador to Kosovo. People look at him, whether they're Serbian, Albanian, Roma or Turkish and know that this soldier is representative of the United States. We push that very hard every day and let them know that what they do during their time here will determine how people think of them and the United States. It's a very weighty thing, and they're doing a fantastic job and I'm very proud of them.
"They're here at risk to themselves and to their families performing a function that our nation has said is vital. And they're doing an absolutely wonderful job. Anything we can do to recognize them and support them is not enough. It's just not enough."

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