CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - He speeds towards the cones. The trainer calls, “brake, turn, drive on.” The soldier does his best to maneuver through the cones at a high speed. They drive a little farther, and there’s another obstacle. A wrong move here may cause the steering wheel to jerk left or right, but it is all part of the training. This is a course in learning how to react to changes in the environment.
He speeds towards the cones. The trainer calls, “brake, turn, drive on.” The soldier does his best to maneuver through the cones at a high speed. They drive a little farther, and there’s another obstacle. A wrong move here may cause the steering wheel to jerk left or right, but it is all part of the training. This is a course in learning how to react to changes in the environment.
American soldiers deployed to Kosovo as part of Multinational Battle Group East, created Drivers Stand Down Sundays. It is a training program organized by the Joint Law Enforcement Liaison Team and the South Carolina Criminal Justice Association to help keep soldiers safe, both here in Kosovo, and when they return home.
Sgt. 1st Class Randle Ballenger is one of the driving instructors for the course, and part of the JLELT deployed here. “We are training soldiers based off trends we learned from KFOR 15, the reasons they were getting in collisions and tried to mitigate that with some extra training, provided by South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy driver training,” he said.
During the previous rotation, there were 43 reported accidents. These accidents were caused by drivers following vehicles too closely and speeding, according to accident reports from KFOR 15. KFOR 16’s command created this training, specifically to create a safer driving environment for all Soldiers. Mandatory for all soldiers, the course reinforces the basics, with an emphasis on defensive driving. Instructors explain the effects of speeding and passing, and teach soldiers how to safely enter traffic circles.
The course covers the basic dynamics of the vehicle and how different parts operate under different circumstances to include the tires, brakes, and airbags. The purpose is to familiarize Soldiers with how the vehicles handle, and to understand their capabilities and limitations.
Ballenger said state police officers in South Carolina undergo the same training offered in this course.
Spc. Matthew Renke experienced what losing control of a vehicle on the uncertain roads of Kosovo is like. He rolled his vehicle over while attempting to pass stopped traffic. Having gotten past that experience, the explosives ordnance technician found this training to be very informative. He said that some drivers may not have experience in Kosovo’s driving environment. That lack of experience increases the risk for themselves and others on the road.
Renke, deployed with the 217th Explosive Ordnance Detachment Company, said that the instructors were very thorough throughout the classroom portion and the hands-on training.
“We spent a lot of time on how to brake, what kind of driving conditions you can experience here in Kosovo,” said the Sacramento, Calif., native. “The roads aren’t always so great. They can switch from asphalt to dirt to freshly paved anytime. So it’s good to know what happens with the vehicle when you change driving surfaces, conditions.”
Renke said that this was excellent training, and all soldiers should take part in it, if only to experience uncomfortable driving situations.
“The most important thing I took away from the course was learning the different types of skidding that can happen,” said Renke. “How to recognize it, how to avoid it, and what to do if you happen to come across it.”
The roads of Kosovo are filled with various obstacles; some unlike the roads we know back home. Changing road surfaces, other unsafe drivers, wandering animals and children all offer challenges unfamiliar to many American drivers. One must always be alert, attentive and prepared.
Renke said that while this training was excellent, it couldn’t possibly cover everything. There are too many variables he said, when it comes to driving on the roads here. The most important thing he said, was drive to arrive. Be careful, be confident, and be cautious.