Sappers from 37 Field Squadron, 32 Regiment Royal Engineers have been using their kit and expertise to come to the aid of a school close to where they are currently stationed at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo.
The squadron deployed to Kosovo at extremely short notice as part of the Strategic Reserve Force (SRF). The SRF was called into action by NATO to strengthen its peacekeeping Kosovo Force (KFOR) as tensions heightened following a gun battle that killed a police officer in the north of the region.
Most of the troops had only 5 days’ notice to get ready and fly out to their new home at Camp Bondsteel for an undetermined period of time.
The school had an infestation of snakes, so we came in with our plant equipment and levelled the ground to make a safe and secure environment for the children. It’s been great to be with the kids here interacting and playing football. I’m not entirely sure of what our tasks will be later on here in Kosovo, but hopefully there will be more community engagement work in the local area helping people out; it’s one of the perks of the job Lance Corporal Reece Longstaff, 32 Regiment Royal Engineers
KFOR is the permanent peacekeeping force whose remit it is to provide a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement within Kosovo. Within its organisation it has Liaison Monitoring Teams (LMT) tasked with supporting communities across the region.
It was one of these LMTs that responded to a plea from a local head teacher, Ismet Bala for help to level ground that formed his pupils’ play area. The grounds around the Abetarja Primary School in the town of Ferizaj had been left badly rutted and uneven by work done by a contractor. Not only was it dangerous to run around on, but it became the perfect home for dozens of snake dens that posed a real danger to the children.
As Ismet explained, “I sent a request to KFOR and they approved because they saw the danger of the snakes. I have 220 children here; they couldn’t play football because the snakes would come out - it was dangerous here. Fortunately, none have been bitten but my staff have had to chase off. The children were not free to go outside.”
So, within days of arriving in Kosovo, the Royal Engineers had their first task, to strip off the uneven surface and undergrowth and start levelling the ground. A small convoy of three excavators and a self-loading dump truck rumbled into school to be greeted by cheering and waving children lining the entrance eager to watch the start of their play area regeneration and more importantly to see rid of the snakes!
Lance Corporal Reece Longstaff, a plant operator on one of the excavators was one of the troops assigned to the task. “The school had an infestation of snakes, so we came in with our plant equipment and levelled the ground to make a safe and secure environment for the children.
"It’s been great to be with the kids here interacting and playing football. I’m not entirely sure of what our tasks will be later on here in Kosovo, but hopefully there will be more community engagement work in the local area helping people out; it’s one of the perks of the job."
There were no snakes evident during the work, suggesting they had long since fled with the sounds and vibrations as the troops arrived. There is copious scrub land further afield well away from the children which will provide the perfect nesting environment.
For Reece and his mates, this was a fairly routine job, but the impact it made on the school was immeasurable the local authority had neither the resources nor especially the heavy machinery to take on such a task. As a Royal Engineer, Reece has travelled far and wide, “We’ve been all around the world pretty much on different plant tasks from building bridges in the Dol Dol area of Kenya to Iraq doing various different jobs.”
Once the Sappers have completed levelling the ground Ismet, the school principal, explained what the plan is, “The ministry for the municipality will plant grass seed and my plan is for each of the 220 pupils here to bring a tree sapling to plant so we will make all this area green.”