CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo –
The Virginia National Guard’s 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Headquarters officially ended their mission as Task Force Saint Lo and the mission command headquarters for NATO Kosovo Force Regional Command-East with a transfer of authority ceremony with the Indiana National Guard’s 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Nov. 2, 2022, at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo.
NATO KFOR troops conduct peace support operations contributing to a safe and secure environment for all people in Kosovo while healthy political dialogue continues between Kosovo and Serbia.
During the ceremony, the 116th IBCT cased their unit colors, signifying the end of their nine-month mission in Kosovo. The 76th IBCT, mobilized as Task Force Nighthawk, then unfurled their unit’s colors, representing the beginning of their support of KFOR’s mission. The 116th’s rotation was the 30th of U.S. military forces based at Camp Bondsteel.
The KFOR commander, Maj. Gen. Angelo Ristuccia, thanked Col. Christopher Samulski, outgoing RC-E commander, for his commitment and duty to KFOR.
“Your actions and contributions have been invaluable and will have lasting impacts for years to come,” said Ristuccia.
As he said farewell to KFOR, Samulski spoke about the friendships the 116th IBCT had formed during their time in Kosovo and how their combined efforts had laid the foundation of future successes.
“To our partners, it was our pleasure to work with some of the finest soldiers from all over Europe,” Samulski said.
Samulski closed his speech thanking the people of Kosovo for sharing their culture, food and views with the team.
“Everyday when I met people throughout Kosovo, I was always greeted with a smile and kind word,” said Samulski. “We admire your work ethic; we felt your love and appreciation and hopefully we made some meaningful friendships that will continue into the future. Thank you for being wonderful hosts.”
As the multi-national brigade assigned to Regional Command - East, Task Force Saint Lo commanded more than 1,000 personnel from 10 different nations to maintain a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement throughout Kosovo. The leaders and staff planned and executed three separate named operations to decrease tensions related to Serbian elections, License Plate Reciprocity, and securing energy infrastructure.
The brigade was also responsible for working with the Serbian armed forces to ensure all parties were in compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999 and the Military Technical Agreement. The focus of RC-East was to provide the opportunity to resolve tensions in the Balkans through political dialogue focused on normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo.
They planned and participated in multinational training events with the German contingencies to earn the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge and Schützenschnur and with the Danish contingencies to participate in the DANCON march. They also hosted the U.S. marksmanship badges for two NATO nations.
Senior leaders took part in more than 70 engagements with the Kosovo Police, local mayors and Serbian armed forces. The Civil-Military Cooperation section executed 10 projects valued at more than 70,000 euros.
Lt. Col. Chris Mabis, the incoming RC-East commander, thanked Samulski and his team for their support in training as Task Force Nighthawk readied for RC-East command.
“We’ve spent nearly a year preparing for this mission and I appreciate the time you [Samulski] and your Soldiers and leaders spent helping us prepare,” said Mabis. “I’m confident that we are ready to assume the Regional Command-East mission for KFOR 31.”
Mabis also assured that KFOR 31 will ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all people, in all communities, in Kosovo.
“We will continue to work together with our NATO allies and partners to preserve stability and support healthy dialogue,” Mabis said.
The VNG’s Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment served as the aviation task force for RC-E providing medical casualty transportation and air mobility for all KFOR troops. They completed their transfer of authority Oct. 11. Read more on va.ng.mil at https://ngpa.us/22186
Mobilized as Task Force Pegasus, they complete more than 1,700 flight hours and 275 aerial missions. Five were multinational multi-ship flights, and they also completed 14 medical evacuation missions, two of which required the use of a hoist. Aviation maintainers achieved an operational readiness rate of 89 percent, exceeding the Army standard of 80 percent.
Other units serving in RC-E included a maneuver battalion capable of rapidly deploying throughout their area of responsibility to guarantee a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement and an effects battalion maintaining situational awareness with local authorities and non-government organizations for monitoring and early identification of security, socio-economic and political situations.
The maneuver battalion was led by the Kentucky National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry Regiment and also included companies from Poland, Turkey and Latvia. The 1-149th also led the effects battalion and also included troops from Switzerland, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Hungary and Slovenia. They officially ended their mission with a transfer of authority ceremony Oct. 29. Read more on army.mil at https://ngpa.us/22520
The maneuver battalion conducted more than 2,700 independent patrols along the administrative boundary line with Serbia as well as more than 170 joint patrols with the Kosovo Border and Boundary Police and more than 230 synchronized patrols with Serbian Armed Forces.
Liaison monitoring teams executed more than 5,500 patrols and nearly 3,300 soldier-level engagements via the effects battalion.
Each unit supported the safety, security and freedom of movement for all the communities in Kosovo in accordance with KFOR's mandate as per United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999.
View more photos on the TOA ceremony on Flickr at https://ngpa.us/22624
Additional reporting by Sgt. 1st Class Herschel Talley