Freezing rain has been pouring for days, washing away the first December snow.
The fog stubbornly lingers over the mountains of Kosovo and the ravaged villages
of this embattled region in the Balkans.
Inside a still-dry field tent at a training range—one of many fields
now serving that purpose for NATO forces—the waxen light reveals a group
of soldiers huddled together, humming the sound of preparation.
Any other time, one would find Sgt. First Class Andrew Turrentine, Sgt. Jeremy
McDaniel, or Private First Class Doron Pyfrom perched up in their tanks, cutting
the thick mud with ease. But today—and every day of their six-month tour
of duty—they will be on foot, wading through the slosh.
These soldiers are part of Kosovo’s Multi-National Brigade East, led
by the United States. They were trained to operate tanks, but have come to Kosovo
to realize that they will be on foot for the rest of their stay, because tanks
are too intrusive for the peacekeeping mission they have been assigned.
“Here in Kosovo, it is a little different than our normal wartime mission
of using our tanks with a lot of shock,” says Capt. Bernie Stone, the
commander of the company. “We do not have our tanks during our daily peacekeeping
missions. We have to train on being able to do the mission of an infantryman,
without a doubt. So we are here to learn.”
Stone is shepherding his company into a live-fire exercise. He has nursed and
refined the scenario, and from his observation tower overlooking the muddy field,
he is working on the last detail of the training day—getting a stuck Humvee
out of the all-enveloping mud. His energy is enough to set everybody into action.
Carrying M-4 and M-16 rifles, the tankers will have to become a quick reaction
force that must help a farmer family attacked by armed insurgents.
“We are called by the KPS (Kosovo Police Service) to hurry up and get
down there to help that family, because there are armed insurgents. We have
a squad with two trucks, and that consists of two teams [three people per group],
one truck per team [that would pick them up at the end of the mission].”
Stone explains that they have written the rules of engagement in such fashion
that “the insurgents down there have recently killed a couple of people,
and they are very hostile. That allows my soldiers within the ROE to engage
them, so we are testing their ability to use the targeting.”
If the soldiers do not execute the training safely, the exercise stops, and
they have to conduct medical evacuation. “We get training benefits out
of whatever happens on the lane,” said Stone. If they run their course
successfully at the end of the exercise, they have to call indirect fire on
a plywood panel in the field, representing a Soviet-era fighting vehicle, Stone
“First thing we do is we distinguish between the armed insurgents and
the civilians that have [been attacked],” says Pyfrom. “Then, we
will run to the house to make sure it is safe, while one guy runs up the hill
and calls in indirect fire.”
Stone explains that the tankers only get to use their 5.56 mm rifles and call
indirect fires. “Because I am [in] a tank company, I am not doing as much
training as the infantry companies. They are using grenades, etc., and that
is way too difficult for us,” Stone says.
Turrentine has been a tanker for 14 years, but today is the first time that
he gets to train as an infantryman. “As tankers, we train the same concepts,
but on a much more grandiose scale,” he says.
Pyfrom says he is planning to take advantage of the infantry experience. “It
is an actual chance to really see what it is like in a situation like this,
where you actually have to take control,” he says. He emphasized that
they are not necessarily preparing for something new, but “just making
adjustments. ... Even though it may be infantry stuff, it is still common sense,”
Planning tactics has not changed much from what they are used to as tankers,
McDaniel explained. “Here, it’s just that we are running, instead
of going on the tanks.” McDaniel has been tasked to lead the first team.
“One guy will sit and cover the move, while the other guy will move,”
he explains. “You just take it and conform it to what you have to do.
We are all infantry down at heart.”
Meanwhile, Stone says that he is trying to achieve two main goals out of the
training. “One is that my sergeants, the lowest non-commissioned officers
... are prepared to lead their soldiers in whatever situation. They have got
to learn to use their minds in situations they are not used to.
“[Second], what I am looking for is somebody who can think and go ‘OK,
I haven’t done this before, but it does not matter, because I know what
I should be doing,’ and they just figure it out on the way.”
Truck Stuck in Mud
At least an hour has passed, and the Humvee is still stuck in the mud on the
Falcon 4 training range. Stone decides to go ahead with the exercise and only
begin shooting live ammunition after the team has passed the vehicle and visibility
The first try would be the training run, or “the crawl” in military
parlance, without the use of the live rounds. It’s the first test of the
surroundings. As the soldiers huddle up around Stone, the wind carries away
their distorted voices.
“You should write this down,” Stone’s voice prevails. He
wants them to write down the coordinates and the steps of their mission. As
they start racing towards their target, the soldiers are really hard to distinguish
in a sea of mud and melting snow.
A good half an hour later, the tankers return on a Humvee. The adrenaline is
still rushing. Now comes the real deal. But this time, they have to make sure
they take their Global Positioning System receiver and the correct map. For
the “dry” run, McDaniel forgot his GPS, which is needed to call
the indirect fire. He also took the part of the map that did not have the location
of the house they needed, Stone says.
Stone says that he intentionally did not remind his soldiers to take what they
needed, “because if you forget them once, you never will again.”
For the live-fire drill, the three soldiers with McDaniel in command, move
swiftly on the ground they have just scouted. In a matter of minutes, the armed
insurgents have been subdued, and the team leader is ready to call in the indirect
Calling in the azimuth, McDaniel is 400 mils off, says Stone. A mil is a unit
of measure used in field artillery. “He did that incorrectly; he gave
them a wrong number,” he says. “That would have made his [fire]
hit very far to the right [of the target]. We’ve had him redo it and he
saw that his number was wrong and sent the right number.” However, Stone
stresses that calling indirect fire is just a diversion that he inserted in
the exercise because in real life, “I don’t see them call for fire
“I have injected that into the scenario just to make it a bit more complicated
for them,” he says.
On the whole, he says, “I think the team did very well. The team leader
controlled the unit movement very well. He controlled his fires, when the target
popped up, two guys with two shots at the same time, and I was very happy about
Turrentine says that this kind of training gives the soldiers a better perspective
and “makes them appreciate the tank a lot more. ... It is an OK break
from the tanks, but as a tanker I still get warm and fuzzy every time I see
These exercises are paramount for these soldiers to be able to do the kind
of peacekeeping missions required in Kosovo. “We are combining war-fighting
missions with our actual missions,” Stone says.
Many of the KFOR (the NATO Force in Kosovo) missions resemble civilian police
work, as the guerrilla war between the Serbs and the Kosovar Albanians has ceased.
It has been more than three years since NATO bombed Belgrade and the United
Nations started leading the interim civilian admini-stration of the war-ravaged
While the region has started slowly building up its society, the NATO forces
are still looked upon as the key to responding to problems such as illegal border
crossing, illegal goods (drugs, weapons, merchandise) smuggling and unexploded
ordnance. Their routine has become patrolling and keeping the peace. Under such
circumstances, the soldiers need to adjust their training.
The homegrown Kosovo Police Service, established by the Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations, is expected eventually to
take over the responsibilities now assigned to the NATO forces.
“We are transitioning to a safe and secure environment, and you can tell
that KFOR is getting out of the places where the KPS is working out,”
Stone says. “If there is a theft reported to us ... I call the KPS, whereas
in the past, we did not do that.”
However, he emphasized that there are still some areas that require KFOR presence.
“There are armed insurgents that are running around and what I tell my
soldiers to focus on are weapons, explosives and everything that stops them
from creating a secure environment.” They also look for unexploded ordnance.
“My biggest thing lately is to talk to the civilians to be aware if they
see something they should let us know.”
“Going on ground patrols is really good experience for me, because otherwise
I would get on the ground and would not know what to do,” Pyfrom says.
“All I know how to do is maneuver tanks, shoot from tanks, that type of
thing—that is my whole career.”
McDaniel says that going out on patrols tends to be “more like a security
guard type of thing, but we are required here to help out the KPS and the augmented
forces. We pretty much assess the situation, call them up and once they get
on site they take over.”
For McDaniel and the tankers of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 63rd Armor, based
at Camp Montieth on the eastern side of Kosovo, the month of February is going
to test what they have learned for the past two months.
“We are going to make it much harder on them to see what they learned
between now and then,” Stone says. “We are going to have the whole
squadron down there, so there will be two teams maneuvering with the squad leader
in the middle, more targets, more stuff to do, more battlefield effects like
smoke, that messes these people up.”
Coming Next Month: The challenges facing Kosovo’s first homegrown national