CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - For the past decade, troops have been training for deployments centered mostly around Iraq and Afghanistan, but with the change in pace, troops from Charlie Company, 1st Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, Fort Bragg, N.C., are preparing to head to Kosovo as part of KFOR 17.
"Our main mission is to provide a safe and secure environment and keep the freedom of movement [in Kosovo]," said Staff Sgt. Chase Usher, a Milton, Fla., native and platoon sergeant with C Company, 1st Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regimentt.
Charlie Company troops conducted three weeks of training as part of the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade’s rotation at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany. There troops dealt with notional events they may face later this year during their deployment in Kosovo.
"We've been focusing on KFOR [Kosovo Force] tasks, mainly on crowd and riot control," Usher said. "We've also been conducting specialized skills that the company has within it, such as zone, area, route, and urban reconnaissance."
Usher said the training was very good and beneficial for his soldiers.
"It's a little different mental task then we are used to," he said. "We've incorporated some of the tasks that we know well, but take CRC for example; we haven't been focused on that throughout the last decade because of the wars, so it's bringing us to a different mental task, teaching the leaders and soldiers to be a little flexible and alter our main focus to something a little different."
Capt. Brian Fitzgerald, a native of Fort Bragg, N.C., and commander of C Company echoed Usher’s feelings on the recent training.
“Of all the CTC [Combat Training Center] rotations I’ve done, this is by far the best one,” Fitzgerald said. “The tempo was good. We had time to learn and adjust and then test what we had decided we would do to fix the problems to see if that worked.”
Fitzgerald said he felt the transition from a reconnaissance element to a security element has been a good change for his company.
“I think for our company, since it’s a reconnaissance company that doesn’t have as much of a high intensity mission, we’re normally more focused on reporting information, not as much direct engagement with the enemy so it hasn’t been as difficult for us to transition,” Fitzgerald said. “In fact, we have to go the other direction. Our job is to be a security element, not as much a reporting instrument. I think for my company in particular, that’s been a little unique change of pace.”
Usher agreed that the training at JMRC has prepared his soldiers for the specific demands of their upcoming deployment.
“It’s a hard mission that we are going into,” Usher said. “It’s not a typical seek and destroy mission that we would be doing in a kinetic environment.”
Another important requirement for the troops supporting KFOR is to remain status neutral.
“There are a lot of political factors that play a role,” Usher said. “A choice that a leader makes or a soldier makes could influence the Serbian or Kosovo government to change its position on its current agreements they have now, so training is very vital from the lowest level private to the brigade commander.”
Usher, who is responsible for three eight-man long range surveillance teams, said his troops are ready for their mission.
“As a platoon sergeant, I get to supervise the training,” Usher said. “When I walked with one of my LRS teams and watched the NCOs step up and actually teach in-depth training of their specialized profession, it was really rewarding for me to watch these guys teach and learn and grow within a couple weeks.”
The 525th BfSB is joined by several multinational partners to form the battle group that will take over the next rotation of KFOR. The battle group will be deployed in support of Operation Joint Guardian (KFOR).
Fitzgerald said it’s been particularly good to work with the multinationals here and see how to deal with the differences in culture and language and how to best leverage everyone’s strengths.
“In Kosovo we’re going to have an enormous number of enablers for KFOR,” Fitzgerald said. “So learning how to reach across all the communication gaps that are there, including language and culture, has been very important.”