CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo – What originally started as a day of question-and-answer between U.S. troops and school children, quickly evolved into a day of fun, laughter and sports. The Fort Bragg-based 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade’s Liaison Monitoring Team 4 visited a school in Kosovo. Troops attended a field day set up by the school director and spent the day with the children, participating in activities like soccer, ping pong, basketball and dancing.
“The kids were really excited,” said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Charles Hipple, the LMT 4 noncommissioned officer in charge. “They were dancing for us, playing football, basketball and ping-pong. It was a really good interaction between KFOR (Kosovo Force) and the students and faculty here.”
Hipple said the children ran them ragged playing all the games and the day went very well.
LMT 4 was joined by U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Sheryl Lyon, Multinational Battle Group-East command sergeant major., as well as by a few first sergeants from other sections.
“I came to visit the school with the LMTs, at their invitation, to see a little bit of the countryside and a little bit of the communities,” Lyon said. “I got to meet with the director (of the school) and I was able to ask him a lot of questions about how their school systems run. It has been very informative for me.”
Lyon spent the morning touring the school and meeting the faculty before being taught a dance by the children. She said she had a blast and that dancing with the children was the most memorable part of the day.
“The kids are wonderful. They want to laugh and talk and have a good time. They are letting us dance with them and learn their dances and showing us a lot of things, so it’s really good,” Lyon said.
U.S. Army Spc. Stanley Walker, a Soldier with LMT 4, said they were out as a liaison team, but got to have fun interacting with the kids, building relationships and just getting to know the local community.
“I got to play ping-pong with some of the kids here today. It was fun. Today was my first time playing (ping-pong). Some of the kids, I think, just let me win,” Walker said.
The idea for the visit originated with the director of the school requesting LMT 4 come and talk to the classes, Hipple said.
“During the course of me getting to know my area, I came to this school,” Hipple said. “I talked to the director and he was really happy to see us. He told me that he hasn’t really seen KFOR in the last two years or so.
On my second visit here, he told me about how he wanted KFOR soldiers to come in and have a little (question-and-answer) with the students. He just wanted us to come into the classroom and talk to the kids and let them practice their English. So on the third visit, when I came to confirm it, he said, ‘hey would you guys be interested in coming out and playing some sports with the kids and just hanging out all day like a field day type thing.’”
Hipple said the director of the school, Milaim Misini, and his faculty completely organized the day.
“As long as the schools come up with it and organize it, I will participate whenever I can,” Hipple said.
The main focus for him and his team over the next nine months will be the schools and children, Hipple said.
“It’s my opinion that if we can get through to the kids and show the kids that there is a better tomorrow if they want it to be, then that’s what’s rewarding for me,” he said. “I’ve been around to other schools in this village and everybody knew that we were coming here today. So the word is spreading that KFOR 17 is out here and we are here to engage with the local populace.”
It’s very important to Hipple that the community feels comfortable interacting with him and his team. He wants them to know KFOR troops and not associate them with any negative stigma.
“It’s just going to show them that we’re not someone to be scared of, that we’re not all here just about business,” Hipple said. “Because I’ve seen it in the past where military, in any country, will go out there and have this stigma about them like ‘oh you can’t talk to me, stay away from me, we don’t know how to have fun.’ We might suck at playing football, but we aren’t afraid to try it, we aren’t afraid to lose. We’re humble people,” he said.
Kenan Halimi School will come together with several other schools in the community June 4, for the ninth grade graduation. Hipple said he is very excited because he has already been extended an invitation and plans on attending.