PRISTINA, Kosovo - Senior level noncommissioned officers from the Balkans region met during the Regional Senior NCO Conference for the Land Forces Senior NCO and Senior Enlisted Leader in Pristina, Kosovo Monday.
This is the first conference of its kind to be held in Kosovo. U.S. Army Europe Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport Sr., said that this conference was designed to not only aid in the development of NCOs, but also to network, to build relationships and share ideas on how to better train, develop and prepare soldiers for combat roles.
The two-day conference covered topics on development from the International Senior Enlisted Seminar, the role of NCO academies, and NATO’s role in NCO development. The goals of the conference were many, but the most common theme was how to continue to make better leaders from our soldiers.
As the region works to develop and advance its military structure, Kosovo is looking to gain insight from the Slovenians, Albanians, Montenegrins and others as they look to improve their security forces. The conference brought together senior enlisted leaders from all of the Balkan states, the U.S. Army Europe Command Sergeant Major, and the U.S. European Command Senior Enlisted Leader as well as representatives from the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command. They built relationships and discussed how to develop the NCO corps within their militaries based on the NATO standard.
When Kosovo was looking to develop its own military presence, they decided to base it on U.S. doctrine. They trained and built their forces like those in the U.S. Army. Every year they review and develop ways to integrate the NATO system. In 2009, the Ahtisaari Plan established the Kosovo Security Force, which according to NATO is a lightly armed force, comprised of 2,500 active and 800 reserve multi-ethnic members.
Davenport, who is from Nashville, Tenn., said that the longest-lasting impacts of these conferences are networked relationships.
“After you meet people here, you can pick up a phone where you are and call another sergeant major or send them an email,” said Davenport. “You can share ideas, discuss what techniques worked, which ones that didn’t. That communication strengthens the NCO corps tenfold.”
U.S. Europe Command’s Senior Enlisted Leader Fleet Master Chief Roy Maddocks said the conference brought together senior enlisted personnel in the region to discuss how to further improve and train professional NCOs. They also discussed NATO strategy and standards and offered recommendations to Kosovo Security Forces Commander, Lt. Gen. Kadri Kastrati and his staff on how to further build and develop the NCO Corps.
“The most important resource military leaders possess, is the human resource,” said Maddocks. ‘Whether it is within NATO, within alliances, it is the people who carry out the mission. Whether you are working regionally or independently, you have to develop a standard. A strategy that holds common among the partners.”
Maddocks said that by working together in professional forums such as this, and the International Senior Enlisted Seminar, key enlisted leaders are prepared for multinational environments that are increasingly complex and challenging. The conferences help to continue the development of a professional NCO corps. They also allow for relationship building, so that the different countries, get a chance to know each other.
“Once you have a common strategy, you can collaborate, cooperate on regional security issues,” said Maddocks. “So we have common strategies, developed relationships. Just by building relationships at these conferences, when it becomes necessary to work together as a security force, it is not the first time you have worked with that country. You already have rapport.”
In developing an NCO program to meet the NATO objectives, Maddocks pointed to the National Guard’s State Partnership Program. Through this program, over 60 countries have been partnered with Army National Guard units to help develop their economies, their military and their leadership. With common goals and common challenges, these state partnerships help foster long-term relationships, and provide mutually beneficial results for both partners.
Kosovo Security Force Command Sergeant Major Fetah Zejhullahu said this conference was targeted specifically for his senior leaders to work on their relationships amongst the regional armies, from Slovenia to Albania, and with KFOR and EUCOM.
Many of these countries have faced challenges in developing their militaries. Zejhullahu, who has served in the security forces here for the last 13 years, said that after the war Kosovo didn’t have an organized military or any structure for one.
“We looked around to see how we wanted to base the structure, the ideology and the doctrine,” he said. “A lot of the foreign military influence in the past had been negative, and we didn’t want to continue that way.”
Training side by side with NATO Kosovo Force supervision and mentorship has helped the development of this force.
“First we built the officer system, now we work on the NCOs,” said Zejhullahu about the development of the soldiers. “We are a small organization, but we want to be professional. Ready.”
He said the other important thing to keep in mind is resource management. “With technology, with resources, it is easy to want too much too soon,” said Zejhullahu. “It is important to focus on what we need to have. What resources we have, and what resources are available.”
Maddocks, who was deployed to Macedonia and Kosovo in 1998- 1999, said that regionally, the ability to share resources is key to developing the NCO support channels that really get things done. By understanding the shared challenges, they can look at how to share and allocate resources to best meet the goals and challenges that they face.