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Fort Bragg Soldiers Head To Kosovo To Protect The Peace, Their Image

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FORT BRAGG — Fort Braggsoldiers are preparing to leave for a deployment to Kosovo Saturday morning. As part of Operation Joint Guardian, it is a routine mission to maintain peace, but the trip could be more challenging than most.

Farewell ceremonies are rather routine at Fort Bragg, but soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division are saying good-bye and heading to Kosovo under challenging circumstances.

"The Americans earned the trust and confidence of the Kosovar people, and both the Albanians and Serbs expect American soldiers to do what's right," says John Vines, commander of the 82nd Division.

However, what some 82nd soldiers did in Kosovo was very wrong. Last August, Staff Sgt. Frank Ronghi was convicted of raping and killing an 11-year-old ethnic Albanian girl. Other soldiers were disciplined for mistreating others members of the local population.

"They are not sure to trust American soldiers, so I think these guys will show them they can trust the U.S," says military wife Faye Escamilla.

The 1st Battalion 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment are the first 82nd soldiers to deploy to Kosovo since the girl's death. As a result of the Ronghi incident, soldiers have been given more time, guidance and resources to prepare for their mission. Mission rehearsals are now mandatory for all units going to the Balkans.

"I think the training will help us treat people with dignity and respect," says soldier Guy Herr.

Soldiers say what happened with Ronghi was isolated. They hope they will not all be judged the way Kosovars judged him.

"I don't think we have to prove anything, just do our job," says soldier Cesar Flores.

A total of 800 soldiers will be heading to the region by next weekend. They will be gone six months.

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Len Besthoff, Reporter
Michael Joyner, Photographer
Kamal Wallace, Web Editor

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