Over the past nine months, soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division have patrolled, secured polling sites for elections and flexed their strength training with foreign partners during their deployment to Kosovo.
“I think everybody here can be very proud of what they’ve done,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Taylor, commander of the division’s 3rd Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team. “It’s been an important mission.”
Last month, soldiers from the regiment received the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal during a ceremony in Kosovo. The soldiers have been deployed to the region for nine months, where they were charged with the longstanding peace-keeping mission.
There are 14 variations of the NATO Medal for different operations. It is awarded to service members who work under the authority of NATO command or in direct support of a NATO operation.
“It’s a visual representation of all the hard work they’ve done,” Taylor said by phone from Kosovo.
The soldiers deployed over the summer as part of Kosovo Force, the international force established in 1999 to provide security and stability to the area that borders Albania and Serbia. They are scheduled to return to Fort Bragg in the next few weeks.
As part of the Kosovo Force, the American soldiers work with 14 partner countries, including Poland, the Netherlands, Hungary and Ukraine.
When the peace-keeping mission began in 1999, there were about 50,000 service members in the Kosovo Force. That has steadily shrunk to fewer than 5,000 service members now on the force.
“It’s pretty impressive that that small force is able to provide a safe and secure atmosphere in the country,” Taylor said. “It speaks volumes to how far Kosovo has come.”
During their deployment, the American soldiers were part of about 600 patrols along the administrative border between Kosovo and Serbia. Many of the patrols were conducted with Kosovo Border Police and Serbian Armed Forces, Taylor said.
The soldiers also supported two iterations for elections across 38 municipalities in Kosovo.
As part of their deterrence role, the soldiers stayed sharp by conducting training exercises. In January, they completed a squad live-fire exercise, and later an air assault exercise under the command of the Polish force.
“I think if (Kosovo Force) was not here as a stabilizing force, there’s a potential that competitor groups would use that or try to leverage or do things in Kosovo that were counter to their government,” Taylor said. “ Those who would want to do harm to the institutions of Kosovo and their structure have to take in consideration that (Kosovo Forces) is here. We’ve been committed for 19 years. I’m incredibly proud to be part of this team and incredibly proud of everything the battalion has accomplished,.”
Staff writer Amanda Dolasinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3528.