Published: April 25th 2010
April 25th 2010
I haven’t been in the military for very long but I do know a few things. The Army never travels without a rather large stock pile of food. The Army never travels with a shortage of Colonels! (yup, we have over 40 Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels!)….And lastly, the Army never goes anywhere without a buttload of Attorneys. This is especially prevalent here in Kosovo! We have got the team of all teams here on the KFOR 12 staff, complete with Colonels, Specialists and a few Sergeants and Captains to boot.
This team here not only provides legal advice, but they really have done quite a few interesting missions. From helping hundreds of soldiers with tax returns to writing a bunch of legal opinions for just about anything we attempt to do. Now legal opinions aren’t just for the common questions. Since our Battle Group has seven separate countries represented, there are restrictions placed on individual nations as to what missions they can and cannot participate in. They help with the decisions of liability for financial decisions we face with US funds and how they are spent in relationship to Camp Bondsteel and how we correctly expend funds in this multi-national
environment. Then I’ve even see them tackle issues that are as silly as to what we can and cannot use as names for our softball teams, just so we do not offend anyone while doing a little teambuilding.
Not only do they help with the decision making end of things but many times we even send the legal dudes out with the soldiers in the field to ensure that we do not cross the legal boundaries of human rights and national caveats. I have been told that these missions are quite exciting because they are far from the normal activities of courtrooms and the doldrums of preparing tax returns.
So when I heard from across the parking lot, “Hey Dobie, wanna go on a road trip with us?” I was super excited because from what I know about this team I knew they would be a kick in the pants. Much like the television show, “JAG” this small elite team of soldiers are always looking for adventure. So off we went rambling out the gates of Camp Bondsteel heading towards the small town of Gjilane. We were going to meet with the Senior Prosecutor of the District
Courts who was going to give us a introduction to the Kosovo legal process.
The one I have personally noticed and soldiers tell me all the time is how impressively hospitable the Kosovo people are. As soon as we arrive at the court room the Senior Prosecutor gave us all a “Macchiato”, at which time he gave us a little history about the popular Kosovo cup of coffee. His English was very good so as he spoke I understood everything, “You see Dobie, the title "Macchiato" simply means "marked" or "stained," and in the case of caffè macchiato, this means literally that it is "espresso stained or marked with milk." Traditionally it is made with one shot of espresso, and the small amount of added milk was the "stain." However, later the "mark" or "stain" came to be referred to as the foamed milk that was put on top to indicate the beverage has a little milk in it (usually about a teaspoon).” All I know was that the coffee was pretty good after I put about 8 packs of sugar in it and then it kept me wired for the rest of the day.
After coffee and
a tour of the court room we were schooled on the overall legal process in a nutshell. The Kosovo process has one thing that is similar to ours in the United States in that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty and also there is a public defense system in place. But a few differences exist after that, one of the main differences is that there is not a process currently in place for plea bargaining. This mainly is due to cultural beliefs. The culture of Kosovo believes that the prosecution and defense counsel should not speak at all about a case because of perceived corruption. Every case in Kosovo will go to court even if the accused would like to plead guilty to expedite the process. Another big difference is that there is a professional panel instead of a jury of peers. The professional panel consists of five people.
After the Senior Prosecutor was finished with us he let us hang out in the court room. My KFOR attorney friends let me pretend I was a legal dude also. So I made a few oral arguments in our made up court case against our favorite fictional felon,
Rooty L. Poot. I was great! I spoke real loud, pointed at the accused and even yelled “OBJECTION YOUR HONOR!”, a couple of times. Then one of our legal aids pretended he was the judge and we sat behind the bench and acted out a case titled: Kosovo vs. Johnny B. Badd. It’s was exhilarating and it gave me a good feeling of what attorneys really do. But honestly, it was nothing like what I watch on TV, it was more real and the human factor came into play more often. It truly was quite the experience to work with the professionals. Even if it was all made up just for me!
Just like most adventures outside of Camp Bondsteel we were gone so long that we had to stop in the town and assist the local economy out a bit. Lunch at the Bujana restaurant was totally cool as we sat on top of the hill overlooking Gjilane. It must have been a pretty important place because the Mayor of Gjilane was eating there and he even came over to our table and thanked us all for our service to Kosovo and expressed much gratitude.
long day outside the confines of Camp Bondsteel we drove back and the JAG soldiers decided that I needed some special attention since I was such a new soldier. At their legal assistance and claims office they have special services for soldiers to take advantage of. I got to fill out a special Power of Attorney authorizing a person of my liking to take care of specified finances and property maintenance while I am here on deployment. They all have the power to notarize documents so that made it easy to do my Will and many other legal papers that the military requires you to have.
In the legal office it wasn’t just American Soldiers who worked behind the desks, there was a local Kosovonian who has worked in the office for nearly 10 years who was well versed on procedures of law and also had an incredible amount of working knowledge on what has happened since the inception of the KFOR legal mission here at camp Bondsteel. Armed with a quick wit and seems to provide a laugh or tow throughout the day I am sure that it is an office that works in harmony together. Also, out
in one of the outlying offices here on the camp we even have a Defense Attorney stashed away who has traveled to different parts of the world providing defense services to soldiers who have needed to be represented during criminal cases.
It was such an enjoyable day hanging with this group of legal aids, attorneys and paralegals and it’s such a relief to know that if I ever needed anything that they would all be there to help. It’s good to be me! And even better to be a KFOR soldier!
There are more photos below