CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo –
Four thousand five hundred miles away from home and now 2,000 feet above sea level, a stark increase from the near sea-level elevation or lack thereof in New York City, Soldiers from the 423rd Military Police Company arrived at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, their new home for the next nine months.
For over 20 years, following the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 which upstood the NATO-led Kosovo Force mission, Bondsteel has housed many iterations of KFOR forces who are charged with ensuring the safety and security for all the people of Kosovo.
Whether providing security during military events, patrolling Bondsteel and other KFOR installations, or conducting other military-policing operations, 423rd MPs safeguard the interests, assets and personnel of KFOR.
As opposed to their part-time status as Army Reserve Soldiers in East Shoreham, N.Y., 423rd MPs now conduct 24-hour military-policing operations as KFOR’s Regional-Command East Task Force Military Police (TF MP) detachment.
Serving stateside as traditional Reservists, most TF MP members work in non-police related civilian careers full-time. Others within TF MP are no strangers to full-time policing and civil service.
When given the option to deploy on a fifth overseas tour in Kosovo, his first having been in a battle-torn Bosnia in 1996, TF MP’s Sgt. 1st. Class Rory Allen made the decision to go fairly quickly.
A military police officer of 27 years and an NYC firefighter of 20 years, Allen said his own commitment to a life of service is present throughout TF MP’s ranks.
“This group of Soldiers amaze me every day,” said Allen, TF MP’s most senior non-commissioned officer. “We each lead our own individual lives but what bonds us is our willingness to make sacrifices in service to others.”
Of TF MP’s 23 military police officers, who arrived in Kosovo in March, eight also serve their respective communities full-time as civilian police officers, firefighters and paramedics.
Some, like Allen, who was a first responder on Ground Zero to the tragedies of 9/11, are experienced leaders within the NYC fire department. While other TF MP members serve their communities in different, yet equally demanding, capacities.
Sgt. Louis Li, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., is a member of the New York Police Department’s Critical Response Command who conducts specialized policing for the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Bureau.
The hand-selected CRC police officers are experts in advanced policing tactics designed to deter terrorism in NYC.
“We conduct high-level weapons, awareness and special tactics training that involves specialized equipment and procedures for preventing chemical, radiological, explosives-borne attacks and more,” said Li who has deployed as a military police officer in multiple overseas tours and combat missions.
“There are many aspects of security threats to consider whether in a civilian or military environment,” said Li. “One of these aspects, medical response, is equally as important as neutralizing hostile threats and TF MP has experts in both fields.”
One of TF MP’s senior non-commissioned officers, Staff Sgt. Daniel Rivera, is a paramedic in New York and a veteran of multiple overseas tours as a military police officer.
A native of Saugerties, N.Y., Rivera conducts life-saving medical procedures daily as a paramedic in New York.
“I want to make a difference in my community,” said Rivera. “That is why I chose this path, to leave the world a little better than I found it.”
Rivera, like other TF MP members, is fairly new to the dual-hatted life as an MP and civil servant and has been a paramedic for about two years.
Cpl. Jorge Lopez has also served his community and country simultaneously for about two years.
A native of Poughkeepsie, NY, Lopez serves as a patrol officer for Washington D.C.’s Metro Transit Police Department.
“It was the best decision I ever made,” said Lopez. “The hard work and long days are worth it knowing I have the opportunity to positively impact somebody’s life.”
Lopez, one of the youngest dual-hatted service members within TF MP, said that aspiring military police officers and civilian civil servants should not skip out on the opportunity to live the fulfilling life of dual service.
Similar to his civilian-policing career, where he admits his days can become tiresome, responsible military policing in Kosovo is a 24-hour, 7-day-per-week effort.
Accounting for the safety of U.S. service members, KFOR personnel and the people of Kosovo is TF MP’s top priority.
And now accounting for unexpected factors such as the global response to the COVID-19 virus that has not spared Kosovo entirely, TF MP remains focused on force protection.
“There are some good days and some bad days,” said Lopez. “But having the opportunity to impact people’s lives positively every day is what makes everything worth it.”