News: Sharing the holidays
Story by Sgt. Angela Parady
CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - Roads wind through mountains, valleys and forests in Kosovo. Outside growing European cities, some of the poorest villages still remain. Nearly 35 percent of the population still lives in poverty and 12 percent live in extreme poverty. The people of Kosovo are learning the ways of the world. They are expanding their knowledge of what the world has to offer and what they can offer the world.
Kosovo Force soldiers have been a part of this nation’s history for over a decade. The uniforms are a welcome sight, as is the knowledge that they bring. The people of Kosovo want to know more about America and the soldiers.
Liaison monitoring teams are groups of soldiers that work in the community on a daily basis. They communicate with people in the villages and both groups learn from each other.
Liaison monitoring teams were originally introduced into the military shortly after World War II to monitor and develop relationships between the Soviets and Western Occupation forces. Their smaller size helped them fit in with local areas, and get a real feel for the temperament of the villages around them.
Today, these infantry soldiers serve the same purpose, developing relationships with the villages and towns we find ourselves in and letting commanders get a real feel for what is going on in the communities.
By keeping open lines of communication, they can prevent riots, disruptive activity, and keep the peace. They can also help the communities find the resources they are in need of by understanding what that need is.
The current team is making sure they get to even the remotest areas that have been difficult to reach in the past. The villages of Kostanjevo and Izhanc are nestled high on a mountainside. The roads are partially paved, but are mostly rock and dirt that makes the trip difficult for most vehicles. These remote settlements are two of the poorest districts in the LMT’s area of support.
In these villages people lack access to resources of more easily accessible locations.
First Lt. Bruce Lester, officer in charge of LMT- 6, said working with the children here helps him to be appreciative of what we have in America.
Even during our most difficult times, he said, the poor have it better in the United States than here. These children don’t have the same access to the infrastructure we have.
He said, “These children walk an hour and half to school every day, up a mountainside. They never complain. These children are happy despite their circumstances.”
He continued on, “We are given so many opportunities, every opportunity. Some of these kids may and probably never will have that. And, too many of us throw those opportunities away, and find things to complain about. We could learn from the attitudes of these children.”
While the LMTs from the 1st of the 118th Combined Arms Battalion, South Carolina Army National Guard are learning to be more appreciative, the children are learning to open up more; smiles and laughter unite the soldiers and children.
“The children are the future, and by reaching out to them, not only do we create a positive image of NATO and KFOR for the kids, we also show them that there is good in the world, and provide them with an example that they can learn from,” said Lester, who lives in Charleston, S.C.
LMTs have become regular fixtures in the lives of these children. They visit them at their school, bring books and small treats as well as supplies.
As the Christmas holidays approach, such an important holiday for Americans, both the command staff and the LMTs wanted to make it a special day for many of these kids.
They invited them to visit Camp Bondsteel. Col. Waymon B. Storey and Command Sgt. Maj. Doug Gilliam were more than happy to help coordinate a special day for the children.
They brought all 22 students from the two villages to the base. The children went on a tour of the command center, the base hospital, were able to play around Black Hawk helicopters, and they got candy at every stop.
For many deployed soldiers, the holidays are a difficult time since they are away from home. Many of the command staff members were thrilled to be able to take advantage of the opportunity to spend some of that time with the kids.
Shkumbin Ymeri Ishati Brod, a teacher at the Razimcokli School in Strpce/Shterpc thought the trip was a huge success and a great opportunity for the students.
“This not only strengthens our friendship, it also helps us expand our knowledge,” he said. His village is so far up on a hill, and so far from the local cities that they don’t get the chance to experience city life. “Everything new that you see, new people, new things, new environments, you learn. It’s always good, and it will help you.”
Brod found things that he hoped to be able to take back to his village after Saturday’s visit.
“In fact one of the things that impressed us the most was the hospital. It is very clean and we should learn about that, keeping things very clean," he said.
The teachers and the soldiers want the same things for these children. They both hope that by being good role models and giving the children something to aspire towards, they can help inspire the younger generations to work towards a brighter future.
We all have the chance to make a personal impact on all the people’s lives we encounter during this deployment, said Lester.
It may just be a small impact, by saying hello in passing, or it could be a bigger impact like we have the chance to do with these kids. But no matter the size of the impact, we are the face of KFOR since we are the soldiers that the people of Kosovo see every day.
With that comes the responsibility to represent all the remaining KFOR soldiers who put in so much hard work, and deserve to be represented to the people of Kosovo as the hard working dedicated soldiers that they are.