Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gaming Furlough

Hello All,

It has been awhile since I posted and I figured it is time to update this project.  This entry unlike the rest is going to diverge away from my normal gaming topic and provide an update on why I have not been gaming the past three plus months.
As I last reported I was preparing for a upcoming Military deployment.  Now that is where I am at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo as part of a Multi-national NATO peace keeping force.
I was reassigned to the HQ  157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade this past Summer as they were short an officer and I filled the primary staff position of S1 (Personnel officer).  Ironically the 157th MEB motto is “Iron Brigade” so I am thinking that fate played a nasty trick on me. ;)

HHC 157th MEB along with a Platoon from the 32nd MP Company left WI in Mid September to start our pre-deployment training at Camp Atterbury, IN (CAIN).  We were at CAIN for about six weeks where we focused on individual warrior tasks such as weapons qualification, land navigation, European drivers training and many others.

At CAIN we were joined by other U.S. units that would form the nucleus of our Multi-National Battle Group when we arrived in Kosovo.  These units included and aviation battalion, part of a cavalry squadron, a medical company, and several other small specialized units to round out the over 700 U.S contingent of the task force.
Our training at CAIN culminated with a weeklong Command Post Exercise (CPX) at the end of October.  The CPX focused on the leadership and staff functions by using computer generated scenarios that represented issues we may face during our year long deployment in Kosovo.  At the end of October we packed up and left CAIN and headed to Joint Military Regional Training Center (JMRTC) in Hoehenfels Germany.
At JMRTC we again conducted an extended exercise that was the capstone of our pre-deployment training and tested much of what we had learned prior to deployment and while at CAIN.  This time it was not just a computer simulation, but a full out exercise with subordinate troops actually conducting the missions we planned at the HQ.  I am happy to report that we passed with flying colors and were cleared to move on to our Mission in Kosovo.  Just before Thanksgiving we again packed up and flew out to Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo.
At this point I along with a good part of the command staff took a detour to Heidelberg, Germany to receive a number of briefings and make office calls with the U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) staff.  After more than two months of constant training and extremely long days this was a welcome break for me.  Even more so as we were able to make a few sightseeing stops and visited the ancient walled city of Rothenburg, Germany as well as downtown Heidelberg and the Heidelberg castle which as a history nut I very much appreciated. 

I had been to Germany twice before, but never outside an airport. After our short three day excursion in Germany we also joined the rest of the unit late the night before Thanksgiving.
After a short day off for the holiday to acclimate and enjoy a good Thanksgiving meal we promptly started the Relief in Place/Transfer of Authority (RIP/TOA) process.  This is where the outgoing unit educates and trains the incoming unit on policies and procedures as well as familiarization of the operating environment before they leave.  Typically the process last 2-3 weeks and culminates with the TOA ceremony. 

During this process we also were introduced to the other multi-national units that would serve under us for the first time.  They included units from nine other countries that contribute to the Kosovo Forces (KFOR).  These nations currently include: Turkey, Poland, Greece, France, Germany, Morroco, Ukraine, Armenia and Romania.   After a grueling two and a half weeks of long days trying to extract all the knowledge we could from out predecessors the day of our TOA ceremony finally arrived on 10 December 2011.

The ceremony is a very big deal as it is presided over by the KFOR commander a German Major General.  In addition, we expected several other flag officers including the Commander of USAREUR a three start general.  As the S1 I played a prominent role in the ceremony. As the Adjutant it was my duty to form the troops (including the multi-national members) and start the ceremony.  If anyone is familiar with a formal military ceremony I did do the Adjutant’s walk.

The Ceremony lasted about an hour and went off without any incident and marked the moment when the 157th MEB officially took command of the Multi-National Battle Group- East (MNBG-E).
Our counterparts we replaced left the next day.  Since then we have been very busy getting into our routine and establishing operations.  Technically Kosovo is a peacekeeping operation and it is our job to assist the institutions in Kosovo such as the police to maintain a safe and secure environment (SASE).  If all had gone as planned we would be one of the last commands to perform this mission.  Unfortunately the situation in Kosovo dramatically changed in the North this past summer and tensions have again arisen between competitor groups.  The groups primarily consist of Kosovo Serbs, Kosovo Albanians and organized crime.  At times it has flared up in the north to the point where the Kosovo Serbs and organized crime have established many road blocks to prevent freedom of movement for the government of Kosovo as well as KFOR and in extreme cases shots riots have broken out and shots have been exchanged.
During our tenure here we hope to reverse this course and get things back o track for a political solution.   There never will be a military solution here, so we can only hope to set the table for the politicians to sit down and work things out so we can again get on track to withdraw from Kosovo and let the government of Kosovo whatever that may end up being fully take over with minimal or no NATO involvement.
So that is where I have been and what I have been up to for the past three plus months and has kept me away from my passion of gaming as well as my beloved family.  Unfortunately I cannot bring my family here, but maybe in a small way I can bring some of my love of gaming to Kosovo.
I have already missed several great gaming conventions and a few new gaming releases such as the latest Axis and Allies War at Sea set.  I recently read that Wings of War will now be Wings of Glory under Ares games and is due for a new release next month which I look forward to.  I will not have much time for gaming distractions over here with my limited free time.  One thing I hope to do is update this blog with several AARs form the past.  I created this blog so I could capture all my AARs and how to posts that I had previously posted on various web forums in one place.  Since I cannot physically game here I plan to take some time over the next nine months or so and go back and track down many of the blasts from the past and re-document them here you your reading enjoyment.  Who knows, with a couple of new starter releases on the horizon I may be tempted to order a small distraction and provide some new material as well. J
I hope everyone enjoyed a Merry Christmas and I wish you all the best in the New Year.

More gaming action to come, stay tuned…….