Monday, February 18, 2008

Camp Bondsteel - the Empire's base in "independent" Kosovo

Camp Bondsteel

The United States agreed to provide a force of approximately 7,000 US personnel as part of the NATO KFOR to help maintain a capable military force in Kosovo and to ensure the safe return of Kosovar refugees. The US supports KFOR by providing the headquarters and troops for one of the four NATO sectors. The US also provides personnel, units and equipment to other components of the KFOR organization.

Camp Bondsteel [CBS] is quite large: 955 acres or 360,000 square meters. If you were to run the outer perimeter, it is about 7 miles. Bondsteel is located on rolling hills and farmland near the city of Ferizaj/Urosevac. There are two dining facilities at Camp Bondsteel: one in North town and one in South town. The food is very well prepared and there are always a variety of main and side dishes to choose from. There are also salad bars, potato bars and multiple dessert offerings. Due to General Order #1, only alcohol-free beer is served, but it is better than nothing! There are set hours for meals, but each dining facility also has a 24-hour section for sandwiches, coffee, fruit, and continental breakfast items.

Soldiers live in SEA (Southeast Asia) Huts. There are about 250 SEA Huts for living quarters and offices. The buildings have five living areas that house up to six soldiers each. Each building has one large bathroom with multiple shower and bathroom stalls. A few buildings have smaller bathroom facilities as well. Female and male sea huts are separate. The beds are comfortable and each room has its own heating/air conditioning unit. Soldiers get their own wall-locker for personal storage, and most opt to purchase a small set of plastic bins for additional storage. You can buy almost anything from the PX to make your living space more comfortable, such as TVs, DVD players, coffee makers and sound systems. Rooms are routinely inspected to make sure they adhere to fire and safety codes. The best way to improve the safety of your room is to purchase an approved surge protector for European voltage, and plug all of your lights and equipment into that. Adaptors are also available so you can plug your 220-compatible devices, like laptops, into the European outlets.

The Bondsteel PX offers soldiers the latest CDs, DVDs, electronics, souvenirs, clothing, uniforms and everything to make your stay in Kosovo comfortable. With two stories of merchandise, the PX draws lots of multinational soldiers from throughout Kosovo. Also located at CBS are Burger King, Anthony’s Pizza and a Cappuccino bar.

There are Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) buildings in North town and South town. The facilities offer billiards, ping-pong, video games, interenet access and a video teleconference room. They also offer movies to check out and watch on several TVs in the MWR facilities. There are a total of three gyms at CBS. Two gyms (north and south) have basketball/volleyball courts, exercise equipment, weight machines and free weights. The third gym is strictly a weight room.

There are two chapels on Bondsteel, North and South, and one on Camp Monteith. All Chapels offer services in several denominations. The Laura Bush education center offers a variety of college courses to suit your needs. Want to learn Albanian, Serbian, or German? Improve your computer skills? The variety of college credit and certificate courses is staggering. There are two colleges represented at US base camps: the University of Maryland and Chicago University. For those with easy access to the Internet, online courses are offered too.

The US sector is in southeast Kosovo. Headquarters for US forces is located at Camp Bondsteel, built on 750 acres of former farmland near Urosevic. Bondsteel has about a 6-mile perimeter. The 1,000-acre camp was built from the ground up on a former field. Basecamps Bondsteel and Monteith were established in June 1999 in Kosovo to be used as staging points for the bulk of US forces stationed in the Multi National Brigade-East. About 4,000 US service members were stationed at Camp Bondsteel in the farm fields near Urosevac, and another 2,000 were at Camp Montieth, near Gnjilane. Both camps are named after medal of honor recipients, Army Staff Sgt. James L. Bondsteel, honored for heroism in Vietnam, and Army 1st Lt. Jimmie W. Montieth Jr, honored for heroism in France during World War II. Camp Able Sentry, located near the Skopje Airport, Macedonia, serves as a point of entry for supplies and personnel into Kosovo. Another 500 Americans support the operation from Camp Able Sentry in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The US contingent is known as Task Force Falcon. There are a number of locations within Kosovo, other than the base camps, at which US soldiers maintain a presence.

US forces entered Kosovo in June 1999 following NATO Operation Allied Force. Since then, military officials worked to rapidly improve service members' quality of life. At the outset, planners wanted to use the lessons learned in Bosnia and convinced decision makers to reach base-camp “end state” as quickly as possible. Because of uncertainty about the Bosnian mission’s duration, when the Army moved across the Sava River into Bosnia in 1995, soldiers were housed first in tents – in the winter! Only years later were they moved to semipermanent Southeast Asia (SEA) huts (a theater-of-operations design that first made its debut in Vietnam) on base camps. Engineer planners knew it was much more cost effective to forego this gradual approach in Kosovo in favor of building end-state SEA huts right away, and operational commanders agreed with this approach.

In contrast to the Bosnia peacekeeping mission where troops lived in tents for many months before moving into hardened structures, DoD decided to erect the SEAhuts from the start. The single-story SEAhut wooden structures were first used in Southeast Asia and then in Bosnia. The military redesigned the SEAhuts specifically for Kosovo. Each wooden structure has a male and a female latrine and six rooms housing six service members each. The huts have heat, hot water, air conditioning, plumbing, electricity and telephones.

Effective force protection is critical for Camp Bondsteel, which is situated on a series of rolling hills with nearby woods on several boundaries. After the 9th Engineer Battalion (Mechanized) used its armored combat earthmovers to create a hasty perimeter, the 94th ECB(H) and Brown & Root Services Corporation jointly completed a 2.5-meter-high earthen berm around the entire perimeter. They removed trees to allow sufficient fields of fire and built nine wooden guard towers around the perimeter. Due to soil, pests, and line-of-sight requirements, the battalion modified the towers by placing each on a concrete pad and adding safer and more accessible entrance ladders. Five of the nine towers were placed on two MILVANS welded together to allow greater visibility. The added elevation enables soldiers to view the area from 18 feet aboveground rather than from the usual eight feet.

Because of the topography and population of the camp, it eventually had two independently serviced life-support areas, with semipermanent wooden buildings known as Davidson-style Southeast Asian huts (SEA huts) (see article). The battalion also created SOCCE huts (modified for the Special Operations Command and Control Element) and officer/senior noncommissioned officer SEA huts that have 10 rooms with separate latrine facilities for each pair of rooms.

The 94th ECB(H) created Camp Bondsteel's road system, which was critical to alleviate blinding dust storms and enable mobility when torrential rains made the clay soil impassable. They built the hardstand for the camp's hospital, created the road to the military and civilian materials yard, and laid a double-base surface of bitumen on the camp's eastern access road. The battalion upgraded the main briefing room and other areas throughout Task Force Falcon's command center. It also created a storage system for confiscated weapons and built floors for 200 tents, so soldiers would be out of the mud while SEA huts were being constructed.

To create life-support areas, the 94th ECB(H) transformed the topography of Camp Bondsteel to maximize use of the ground. The primary earthmoving mission, dubbed Operation Wolverine Mountain after the battalion's mascot, required that more than 150,000 cubic meters of earth be moved and redistributed. That is equivalent to the area of one football field that is 100 feet deep. To save time, the battalion lowered the two major hills in Camp Bondsteel and simultaneously filled the large ravine between them. Combining the efforts of all four organic companies, the battalion worked two shifts totaling 20 hours per day. At times twelve 621B scrapers, eight D7G dozers, three 130G graders, and six vibratory and sheepsfoot compactors operated on the hills. In 30 days, the battalion widened the life-support areas, created areas for the camp's wash rack and more than half of the camp's motor pools, and built a foundation for the northern access road.

Simultaneously, the battalion created the hardstand for the American logistical supply support activity. This 600- by 160-meter area, which required 70,000 cubic meters of earthen cut-and-fill operations, will eventually include a chapel, a morale and welfare tent, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, and a barbershop. Equipment and operators from nine Wolverine platoons worked around the clock to complete the project.

Shortly after site preparation began at Camp Bondsteel, a 36-inch natural-gas pipeline was discovered under the camp – right where we wanted to make a 3-foot cut! It was easier to redesign the camp around the pipeline than dig it out, and that’s why today a “no-construction” strip of land runs northwest to southeast among the SEA huts. The total absence of civilian sewage-treatment facilities in Kosovo forced early diversion of critical horizontal equipment to build sewage lagoons. This project is environmentally critical since there were no sewage-treatment plants in Kosovo, and local people (including those serving military units) emptied raw sewage into streams. The lagoon is a technically challenging mission that requires all four of the 200- by 300-meter areas to have depth deviations from final design grade of no more than 3 inches. Led by the 535th and 568th Engineer Companies (CSE), the first area completed has a maximum deviation of only two inches across its entire 60,000-square-meter area.

Camp Bondsteel has an improved detention facility, with a 250 by 350 foot temporary structure composed of tents with plywood sidewalls and floors, electricity, heat, and lights. The project also includes a separate shower point and security measures - perimeter fencing, triple-standard concertina wire, locking gates, and an upgraded guard tower. The facility replaced an interim holding cell at Bondsteel and provides space for persons detained in incidents throughout the US sector in Kosovo.

In August 1999 the 9th Combat Engineer Battalion (Mechanized) at Camp Bondsteel altered the southwest perimeter at Camp Bondsteel to make room for the new helicopter landing zone. Engineers reworked triple-standard concertina wire to pull it out farther from the area targeted for landings. To make this change to the perimeter, engineers first had to cut down several trees both to make room and to afford proper line of sight from the guard tower. They worked with Civil Affairs to coordinate the tree removal with local villagers whose property adjoins the area.

In August 1999 the helicopter landing area used since Camp Bondsteel opened moved from the command operations area to a site on the post's south perimeter. Five new helipads made of AM2 aluminum matting handled helicopter landings for a few months until an expanded aviation area was completed with 52 helipads. The 94th Engineer Battalion also completed separate areas for landing sling loads and Chinooks (CH47s). The vacated landing site allowed engineers to expand the main access road and prepare the ground for erecting four clamshells, which are temporary frame-and-fabric structures. The plan was to transition all aircraft from Camp Able Sentry, Macedonia, to Camp Bondsteel as a home base.