While the Middle East and Central Asia dominate national discussion about the military, the U.S. military still has a presence in Eastern Europe, particularly in the Balkans, including in Kosovo.
New Mexico native Michael Martinez, a project manager in civil works, has experienced all three regions, most recently Kosovo. In 2004, he deployed to Iraq with the Corps. During 2005-2006 he was in Afghanistan serving with the New Mexico National Guard. From March to December 2011 he deployed to Kosovo, one of more than 400 New Mexico National Guardsmen in one of the biggest New Mexico National Guard deployments since World War II.
According to Martinez, U.S. forces are there as “third responders.” By this, he explained that the Kosovo government is the primary authority. They are backed up by NATO, international courts and the European Union. The U.S. forces support the local government and the Europeans. The international military presence is known as KFOR (Kosovo Force) and led by NATO.
Martinez said the U.S. forces had three main areas of mission focus: freedom of movement within Kosovo; Kosovo installations, that is, working to support the development and credibility of civilian institutions, such as the judicial and penal system and the electoral process; and working toward a safe and secure environment.
The New Mexico National Guard was the command group for the forces during Martinez’s tour of duty. In addition to New Mexico’s National Guard, there were National Guard units and Reservists from 22 states and 12 NATO nations that contributed troops.
Martinez’s primary duty while deployed was evaluating taskings for people and resources to ensure the best people and right resources were where they were needed. Part of the job involved interacting with troops from the other NATO countries. Martinez visited several multinational camps and said that was a highlight of his deployment. He said that each nation’s troops brought their culture with them to Kosovo and he noticed this especially in their food and entertainment.
Martinez added that because the National Guard is composed of civilian soldiers, they were able to interact in unique ways with the people outside of a military setting. He said that with his civil engineering background, he was able to share thoughts on conservation and land issues (such as logging).
KFOR has been in Kosovo since June 1999, as Kosovo faced a humanitarian crisis and civil war broke out. Ethnic tensions between the majority Albanian population, which is mainly Muslim, and the minority Serb population, which is mainly Orthodox Christian, were at their highest level. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia Feb. 17, 2008, with mixed international recognition.
However, Serbia rejects Kosovo’s claim of independence.