Following Skenderbeg's footsteps

Capt. Russell Craig
First published in
SFOR Informer#134, March 14, 2002

Some 70 Albanian commandos guard the gates of the German Battle Group's camp. The Albanians work closely with the Germans, a relationship that began with the first SFOR mission.

Rajlovac - Albania's history is extensive and varied. They have been part of several great empires: Illyrian, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and communist. Throughout each of these periods the Albanians have produced great leaders and warriors, the greatest being Gjergj Kastrioti - known as Skenderbeg - who successfully fought against invading armies for 25 years. Now Albania is a democracy and its soldiers continue the martial tradition by working closely with other nations in SFOR.
"Our mission here is the security of the camp. Our personnel guard the main gate, the tower, and the foot-gate, according to an agreement between our army and the German one," said Albanian Maj. Tefik Cepa, commanding officer of the contingent.
The Job
The Albanians have to check ID cards, carry out vehicle checks and search civilians. When the contingent first took over, they were surprised at how busy the gates were, but now they have settled into a solid routine.
"The busiest is the main gate, there are so many trucks and cars for the base. For civilians who want to come here for the hospital, the duty officer (German) deals with the request…(we) call the Germans and the civilians are escorted to the hospital," said Albanian Lt. Ilirjan Dauti, company commander.
Co-operation
Although Dauti admits that he would like to travel more, the soldiers gain from their time in SFOR.
"We can see many people from other countries, and learn from these experiences…I will take home these memories," said Albanian Pvt. Ervim Maqellara.
The Albanians trained for the mission within their own country before training with the German Army.
"We trained for peacekeeping duties with the German Army, for six weeks. This training is done in Dresden and consists of using German weapons, security training, especially guard duty and what kinds of mines are over here (in Bosnia and Herzegovina). At the end of the training we do a long co-operative exercise (with the Germans)," said Cepa.
Working with the Germans and other NATO countries has allowed the Albanians to develop in many different spheres, including, brushing up on the English language skills and learning new military techniques.
"I have learned to prepare and plan the guard and command post, and I hope to do that in Albania. Especially in peacekeeping operations through Partnership for Peace (PfP) operations," said Albanian Capt. Hysni Goergji.
The senior national Albanian is Maj. Shaqir Koliqi, who works in the Coalition Press Information Centre, in Tito Barracks. He prepares media analysis reports and also works in a multinational environment. Koliqi views this as good experience:
"The good aspects of working with NATO are working to NATO standards, progressing in English, the opportunity to know lots of different people and to exchange different experiences with them."

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: Albania

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Photo: PO Andy Gedge

An Albanian soldier carries out a comprehensive vehicle check.


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From his watchtower this Albanian soldier can keep a keen eye on proceedings.


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An Albanian soldier controls the gate to Rajlovac camp.


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Equipped with German gear the Albanian soldiers can be distinguished by their national symbol, which is worn on the head-dress and arm.