Fort Bragg soldiers prepare to deploy to Kosovo

Ft BraggOver the past dozen years of war, Fort Bragg soldiers have had a near constant presence overseas.  But when soldiers with the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade deploy later this year, they will take on a much different mission than they first expected.

525 BrigadeSeveral hundred soldiers with the brigade headquarters and 1st Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, will deploy this spring to Kosovo, officials said.

The Kosovo mission is one that has been largely forgotten by the public, overshadowed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and maintained by National Guard and Army Reserve troops.  When the 525th deploys to take command of Multi-National Battle Group East, it’s believed it will be the first active Army unit to hold that post in roughly a decade.

“It’s been managed largely by our Guard and Reserve forces, who’ve done an amazing job,” said Col. Xavier Brunson, the 525th commander.

He has overseen training for the deployment and said Kosovo will present challenges for the brigade, which originally was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.  “It takes a new mindset,” he said.

Firefights, while not uncommon in Afghanistan, are expected to be virtually nonexistent in Kosovo, Brunson said. Instead, his soldiers will work with local officials to help ensure freedom of movement between ethnic enclaves.

Kosovo map 1Kosovo is a relatively new nation in the Balkan Peninsula of eastern Europe, north of Greece. It declared independence on Feb. 17, 2008.

The U.S. presence in the country dates to the late 1990s, when NATO forces and other partner nations deployed as a peacekeeping force to ease tensions between Kosovo and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

When the 525th arrives, it will work alongside soldiers from Armenia, Germany, Morocco, Poland, Turkey and Ukraine.  Back in 1999, when Brunson served in Kosovo, many of those same nations were represented there, but there was little overlap.  “Every force was an island,” Brunson said. “Everything’s global now.”

While the brigade’s experience in Afghanistan and Iraq will be a plus, Brunson said, it approached the training with a focus on building intrapersonal skills.

Col. Xavier Brunson, the 525th commander
Col. Xavier Brunson, the 525th commander

Brunson said 525th soldiers went to mock job interviews to help learn how to communicate and visited agencies, such as the Spring Lake Fire Department, to learn how to serve as liaisons, mentors and trainers to Kosovo communities.

A rigorous academic training program has brought the soldiers up to date on the region’s sometimes tumultuous history, cultural norms and techniques the soldiers may have to employ.

“We had to learn and understand crowd control and riot control,” Brunson. “And we want them to be able to communicate clearly.”

And the skills they learn in Kosovo will be invaluable in the new, postwar realities of the military after Iraq and Afghanistan, Brunson said.

“It provides us an opportunity to add to our portfolio, if you will,” Brunson said.

It makes my head hurt trying to think of any reason to continue having American military forces stationed in Kosovo.  Exactly how is it in our national interest to still be there?  Learning new skills is not a reason to justify the deployment of these or any other American troops to the area.  This would be one area that the Department of Defense could cut its budget that would not effect national security.  Bring the troops home from Kosovo!

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