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News | Dec. 1, 2021

Iowa National Guard, Kosovo celebrate long partnership

By Staff Sgt. Jason Everett, 135th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

DES MOINES, Iowa – It was a red carpet affair that resembled a family reunion. Kosovo Security Force members, Iowa National Guard leaders, dignitaries, and government officials gathered the evening of Nov. 6 in the extravagantly decorated Des Moines Area Community College ballroom in Ankeny.

The handshakes and hugs were those of close friendships and partnerships forged over many years.

It was part of a celebration of the 10-year formal partnership between the Iowa National Guard and Kosovo under the State Partnership Program. In 2011, Maj. Gen Timothy Orr, former adjutant general of the Iowa National Guard, vied for Iowa to be a part of this National Guard Bureau program that pairs state National Guards with partner countries to support security cooperation objectives and increase military capability.

However, the Iowa and Kosovo relationship began before then. From 2003 to 2011, approximately 800 Iowans deployed in rotations to Kosovo as part of Operation Joint Guardian. After a time of great adversity, including a humanitarian crisis as a result of an armed ethnic conflict in the region, Iowans came as part of a peacekeeping force. They worked together with Kosovars to recover and rebuild, and many even spent personal time engaging in nation-building activities such as teaching English and community improvement projects.

Those relationships at the community level carried on. They led to more dedicated bonds and broader interests for formal collaboration, including the establishment of sister city partnerships between Iowa and Kosovo cities and the establishment of the first foreign consulate in Iowa.

The deeply intertwined relationship between Kosovo and Iowa was on display at the formal ball.

Special guests and representatives took turns on stage, with the Iowa and Kosovo flags as a backdrop, and told anecdotes about the relationships and visions for the partnership’s future.

Donika Gervalla-Schwarz, deputy prime minister/minister of foreign affairs, shared stories of personal tragedy and loss and how the partnership with Iowa has been part of the foundation of a bright future for Kosovo.

The hope is that this will continue and evolve for the mutual benefit of Iowa, Kosovo and the world community. If this past year’s milestone of the Kosovo Security Force and Iowa National Guard deploying together to Kuwait to support peace in other nations is any indication, it looks likely.

But as Maj. Gen. Ben Corell, adjutant general of the Iowa National Guard, said: “I don’t hope for anything, I believe. And I believe this relationship is enduring. Leadership will change, but I believe this relationship will continue to grow.”