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A half a world away

By Staff | Mar 8, 2008

Staff Sgt. Larry Dean and Spc. Tony Weatherman help to clear away the brush that was in the road so that the vehicles can go through on their way to one of the guard posts between the Kosovo and Serbian borders. Dean and Weatherman are both with 1-194 Field Artillery's Alpha Battery from Estherville. Photo by Specialist Tegan Kucera- 111thPublic Affairs Detachment

KOSOVO — By showing that they are there and will remain there for however long they are needed, Kosovo Forces are making a difference for the people of Kosovo.

Soldiers of the United States have been continuing to go on patrols and talk to members of the community to ensure that Kosovo remains as safe as possible after it declared its independence.

“Based on the violent history that the Balkans have had, I’m really surprised how well the declaring of independence went over in Kosovo,” said Sgt. Joel Johnson a team leader with Alpha battery from the 1-194th Field Artillery from Estherville, Iowa. “I think that part of that is because we are here doing our jobs to maintain a safe and secure environment.”

Johnson said his job in Kosovo is to conduct patrols, talk to the local people, monitor the local situation, and to help the people if they have any issues. This has led him and other members of his team to get to know the people.

“I wasn’t expecting to get that personal with the people, to get to know how they’re doing on resources and other stuff. We end up talking about family and other things and really getting to know them a lot better than we ever expected,” Johnson said. “This has really helped us to build a rapport with the people and they tell other people about their experience with the Americans and that really helps our image here and I wasn’t expecting that at all.”

Sgt. Joel Johnson keeps watch on the border crossing between Kosovo and Serbia, Johnson is in Kosovo to help provide a safe environment for the people. He is part of the Alpha Battery 1-194 Field Artillery from Estherville

Johnson says he knows his job has been a success based on the relationships he’s been able to build while over here and how they help out now because the people in the American sector of Kosovo have been less active than in others. .

“It’s hard to see the results of your work when you’re doing a good job, but it’s all things that aren’t happening that show how well you’re actually doing,” Johnson added.

He said the news back home doesn’t show what’s really happening in the American sector of Kosovo Multi-National Task Force (East). He said that because of this, he has been sending news articles home that really show what has been happening where he’s at. He said he wants his family to know that things are calm for him and that the people in his area have not really changed in how they treat the American soldiers.

“The Serbians are still friendly when we walk through the town and the people still wave at us, maybe not everyone but they’re not rude and they don’t show any disrespect. There hasn’t been a real drastic change, there have been a few things that we’ve noticed, but nothing major,” Johnson said.

He said the training he received before coming over was good, but it couldn’t prepare him for how culture affects the people.

Members of Alpha Battery 1-194 Field Artillery from Estherville, Iowa, navigate their way through all the back roads of Kosovo in order to show that they are everywhere they are needed.

“Being immersed in another culture, nothing can really train you for that if you haven’t done it before,” Johnson said. “There’s so much history here and culture that come into play when you’re talking to different people. You really can’t grasp that until you come here and put your training together with you’re observations. We have learned a lot by being here and everyday we’re learning more,” he added.

Johnson said one of the things the training focused on was how him and the rest of the soldiers deploying with him would help the Kosovo Police Service. He said they were led to believe that they would be leading the KPS, but that they only need to watch them because the KPS is fine leading its self.

“The KPS has really impressed us, they’re ready to take over. I don’t know about the rest of the government, but the KPS is,” said Staff Sgt. John Steil a squad leader for Alpha Battery 1-194th Field Artillery. “They just need to see us here so that they know they have someone to back them if something were to happen.”

Steil said they found the opposite to be true when it comes to what they were led to believe in training about KPS. He said there are others he and his soldiers can help while here to continue to help provide for the people of Kosovo. Recently his squad did a synchronize patrol with members of the Serbian army to monitor the border between the countries.

“I was surprised at the last one, I would have thought with independence that it would have been a little more thence, but it wasn’t. They’re soldiers like we are they don’t want any problems, they’re not looking for any trouble or making any either,” Steil said.

He said the problems he has been seeing have been coming from the younger people who are not yet settled. Steil said he’s talked to many older people who just want to go about their daily lives and don’t want any trouble and are happy that the Americans and KFOR are there for them.

“The biggest thing is us being here and the people see that we’re here,” Steil said it was the show of presence that was important. “Just being here for the people so they aren’t worried, and have confidence that the United States is backing them and what their leaders and police are doing.”