Peacekeeping training is over; one month into the mission in KOSOVO

Lots has happened since I first reported for my peacekeeping training in Stans/Switzerland at the beginning of January.

Time for a quick update. I will dig deeper into my experience once I have a bit more peace 🙂 and quiet.

Most importantly, this upfront: The transition to military life has been remarkably smooth. Not something I necessarily expected after almost 20 years out of the service. I have no trouble with some of the formalities and indeed find myself insisting on some of them when my younger fellow officers are more lenient.

So far the experience has been everything I was hoping for. I loved the diversity of the three months of peacekeeping training in Switzerland. We receiving training in all of the following areas:

  • Tactical shooting with rifle and pistol
  • Map reading and GPS
  • Off-road driving
  • First aid
  • Mine awareness
  • Counterintelligence
  • Protection against chemical/nuclear warfare
  • Fire fighting
  • Stress management and team building
  • Military report writing
  • Communication and radio techniques
  • Communication strategies and interview techniques
  • Rules of Engagement
  • Gender awareness and code of conduct

We were also digging deeply into the history of the Balkans and were (and still are!) working on getting a better understanding of the difficult and troublesome ethnic and socio-economic conflicts in Kosovo. It was (and continues to be) a steep learning curve.

During training, I very much enjoyed the leadership challenges and joys that came with leading a 30+ strong, highly skilled and motivated team of Liaison and Monitoring folks. A very impressive group of people indeed! Our backgrounds range from professional military personnel to people with no military background whatsoever but very strong educational and professional experiences. Most people are in their late 20s and I, at almost 50, am among the oldest.

Two of the highlights of the training were:

  • The final, three-day Rules of Engagement (ROE) scenario exercise during which we simulated our real work in Kosovo. We were meeting with mayors, school principals and village speakers during the day and had to compile our findings into reports at the end of the day. We also lived and worked in a house much like we do now in Kosovo.
  • The three-day recognizing tour of Kosovo during which I had the occasion of shadowing my predecessor, flying over Kosovo in a Swiss military chopper, and listened to numerous, very interesting military briefings. This was also my first exposure to international military camp living. Quite the experience indeed!

After three months of peacekeeping training we were deployed to Kosovo at the end of March. As a team commander, I am heading a Liaison and Monitoring Team. The main task of the Liaison and Monitoring Teams is to be the ears and eyes of the Kosovo Force (KFOR). We are here to ‘feel the pulse’ of the population and to serve as an early warning system to the Commanders of KFOR. We are a non-kinetic element and are armed only for self-protection.

Each team is assigned an ‘Area of Responsibility’ which we report on. We spend our days meeting with local politicians, government officials, village speakers, school principals, religious leaders and business owners. We distill our findings into daily reports, which we forward up the chain of command. These reports help the commander get a better sense for what is going on on the ground and to be able to proactively take action should any trouble arise.

My team lives in a house in the middle of a small town. The house serves both as our group’s home as well as our military base. The mix and match of group house living (think shopping, cleaning, cooking, dishes etc.) and military structure (think briefings, reporting structures, hierarchy) poses wonderful leadership challenges, which I of course thoroughly enjoy!

Aside from getting into our daily routine and finding our way of doing things, the highlights of our time so far include:

  • The friendliness and hospitality of the local population. Not a single day goes by that we are not warmly greeted on the streets and waved to by children. During almost every meeting we receive thanks for our work here.
  • A visit to the Serbian Orthodox Decani Monastery in the West of Kosovo. This historic and outstanding beautiful monastery established between 1327 and 1335 is packed with history which we enjoyed learning about during a tour. It’s still guarded 24/7 by Kosovo Force troops. It’s a bizarre and sad sight to see a monastery transformed into a military fortress.
  • Participating in the 25 km Dancon March organized by the Royal Danish Army. Seeing my knees holding up ok this year, I decided to treat this as my first competitive event in almost nine years. The required weight was 25 pounds plus arms, and I ended up jogging most of the way and was thrilled to finish second among professional soldiers half my age. Yes, I admit it: It made me feel good! 🙂

I am very much looking forward to my leave in a few weeks when I will be traveling back to the States and spend time with my boys. I will report back with more in depth news over the course of the summer.

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