KFOR assists KSF with factory inspections

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Maj. Jose Velazquez, Ponce, Puerto Rico, the chief engineer for Multinational Battle Group East, inspects barrels full of hazardous waste during an inspection of a battery factory in Gjilan/Gnjilane, Kosovo. Velazquez was at the factory assisting members of the Kosovo Security Force for the inspection. Velazquez, a member of the Puerto Rico National Guard, is deployed as part of the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. (U.S. Army photo by Jerry Boffen, 130th Public Affairs Detachment)

Maj. Jose Velazquez (left), Ponce, Puerto Rico, the chief engineer for Multinational Battle Group East, and Kosovo Security Forces 1st Lt. Muharrem Asllami, chief of laboratories in the chemical company from the Kosovo Security Forces' civil protection regiment, meet with the factory manager of a battery factory in Gjilan/Gnjilane. Velazquez assisted Asllami and the KSF during an inspection of the factory's hazardous materials. Velazquez, a member of the Puerto Rico National Guard, is deployed as part of the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. (U.S. Army photo by Jerry Boffen, 130th Public Affairs Detachment)

Rexhep Sylemani (left), the manager of Industrial Battery in Gjilan, guides Maj. Jose Velazquez (right), Ponce, Puerto Rico, the chief engineer for Multinational Battle Group East, and Kosovo Security Forces 1st Lt. Muharrem Asllami, chief of laboratories in the chemical company from the KSF's civil protection regiment, during an inspection of the battery factory in Gjilan/Gnjilane. Velazquez assisted Asllami and the KSF during an inspection of the factory's hazardous materials. Velazquez, a member of the Puerto Rico National Guard, is deployed as part of the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. (U.S. Army photo by Jerry Boffen, 130th Public Affairs Detachment)

Kosovo Security Forces 1st Lt. Muharrem Asllami, chief of laboratories in the chemical company from the KSF's civil protection regiment, inspects a storage building full of barrels containing lithium and other hazardous waste at a battery factory in Gjilan/Gnjilane, Kosovo. Asllami and other members of the KSF, with assistance from Multinational Battle Group East Soldiers, conducted an inspection of the factory's hazardous materials. (U.S. Army photo by Jerry Boffen, 130th Public Affairs Detachment)

GNJILANE/GJILAN, Kosovo – Multinational Battle Group East Soldiers joined their Kosovo Forces partners from Austria, Italy and Poland to assist members of the Kosovo Security Forces during an inspection of a battery factory in Gjilan/Gnjilane, Kosovo, recently.

The inspection of Industrial Battery in Gjilan/Gnjilane was primarily focused on identifying the hazardous materials present in the factory and evaluating the safety and effectiveness of the factory’s storage and handling of the materials, said Maj. Jose Velazquez, Ponce, Puerto Rico, the chief engineer for MNBG E and a member of the Puerto Rico National Guard.

The KSF, which lead the inspection, is a civil organization whose mission is to conduct crisis response operations in Kosovo and abroad, provide civil protection operations within Kosovo and assist the civil authorities in responding to natural disasters and other emergencies.

“The KSF is the lead organization for these inspections and we (KFOR) are here to assist them and provide suggestions and recommendations,” said Velazquez.

This is the fourth time Velazquez has assisted in similar inspections since arriving in Kosovo in early July.

Before performing the physical and visual inspections of the factory, the KFOR soldiers and KSF met with the factory manager to review the findings from the previous inspection of the factory, which was conducted in April, and to discuss the steps that have been taken since then to remove the hazardous materials from the factory.

“There isn’t anywhere in Kosovo where these factories can destroy their hazardous materials,” Velazquez said, “so they have to find a way to properly store them or remove them from the area altogether.”

Most of the hazardous chemicals at IBG were meant to be used for lithium battery cell production, but the program was cancelled, leaving the factory with a surplus of lithium and other hazardous materials, said Rexhep Sylemani, the IBG factory manager, through an interpreter.

“It is in our interests as a factory to relieve ourselves of those hazardous materials, either by selling them or by giving them away to somebody that can properly handle them,” Sylemani said.

Following their meeting, the factory manager guided the KFOR soldiers and the KSF on a tour through the factory and factory grounds. The tour included physical and visual inspections of the facilities and the containers used for storage of the factory’s hazardous materials.

Upon the completion of the inspection, Velazquez and KSF 1st Lt. Muharrem Asllami, chief of laboratories in the chemical company for the KSF’s civil protection regiment, gave the factory manager advice, based on their findings, on how to improve the storage of the hazardous materials and offered suggestions for working with certain agencies and contractors to try to remove the materials.

“Based on my ten or eleven years of experience in these matters,” Asllami said, “it’s very good news and makes me happy to hear that this factory is actively trying to dispose of these hazardous materials.”

“I’m encouraged by your cooperation,” Asllami told the factory manager. “I know that next time we visit, things will be vastly improved.”

“It is very important to continue these inspections,” said Velazquez. “They give the people in Kosovo the point of view that properly disposing of hazardous materials is important to the safety of the people in Gjilan (Gnjilane) and all of Kosovo.”

“KSF has seen improvement,” Velazquez added, “and that shows that the people in Kosovo are realizing the negative impact that these hazardous materials can have on the environment. They’re beginning to see how important it is to protect the environment. It’s a step in the right direction.”

Velazquez said that KFOR plans to continue to work with the KSF to conduct these types of inspections.

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Capt. Barbara Bujak, physical therapist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, speaks in her native tongue, Polish, with members of Multinational Battle Group East's Polish Contingent and European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo. Bujak, who was born in Poland, moved to the U.S. at age 11 and joined the U.S. Army five years ago. Bujak's temporary assignment at Camp Bondsteel allowed her to experience a familiar ceremony in a new location.

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