CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo 1st Lt. Justin Abel, a member of the North Dakota Army National Guard, is a computers and communications specialist who is officially halfway through his yearlong peacekeeping deployment here.
Back home in Fargo, Abel works at Microsoft as a software engineer. He says his civilian skills help him here every day.
"This position requires a background in information technologies and communication systems," Abel said. "My civilian employer provides me with great experience I can bring to Kosovo to help our team.
"I miss my job and the amazing people I work with at Microsoft. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work with great people in both my civilian career and my military career."
Abel, who is originally from Minot and currently resides in West Fargo, is working here as the deputy officer in charge for the information technology and communications department for Task Force Falcon, Multi-National Battle Group East of Kosovo Forces 12.
Task Force Falcon is the headquarters for the U.S. Contingent of KFOR 12 and works to support all task forces that fall under Multi-National Battle Group-East.
Abel ensures security for computer networks directed by U.S. Army Europe and sets up plans for implementations systems, which pushes out new computer systems for networking and communication. On a daily basis, he coordinates with NATO and United States Army Europe, as well as the four other multi-national battle groups that fall under KFOR in Kosovo.
Even though he's deployed half-a-world away, Abel has Microsoft publications mailed and continues to monitor his work e-mails to ensure that he keeps up with what is happening at the company.
"I really appreciate Microsoft's commitment to support those who serve," he said. "They truly do ensure that the deploying soldier is supported."
Microsoft's dedication and commitment to this level of support allowed Microsoft to win the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award for 2009. Abel was invited to attend the award ceremony in Washington, D.C., during his time at Camp Atterbury, Ind., the mobilization station for this deployment.
"The task force's command staff was generous enough to let me attend," Abel said. "I am very fortunate to have both organizations support each other so well."
Abel graduated from Minot High School in 1996 and continued on to Minot State University for one year. He then attended North Dakota State University, Fargo, and received a bachelor of science in management information systems with minors in computer science and business administration in 2000.
This is not the first time the N.D. Army National Guard has taken Abel abroad, but it is his first yearlong deployment.
"The Army has taken me to Korea, Japan, and Canada once; Germany twice," Abel said.
Abel has been a member of the military since his 17th birthday. He loves the challenges the military brings, the ability to support the country and the education benefits that come with it.
Abel began his career close to home in Alpha Company, 164th Engineer Battalion in Minot. He then transferred to the Alpha Company, 164th Engineer Brigade Detachment in Hazen, to become a team leader. After reaching the position of section sergeant and the rank of staff sergeant, he left that unit to start the Officer Candidate Program in Devils Lake.
Abel entered the OCS program in March 2005.
"I took my commission in July of 2007," he said. "I decided that if I was going to spend 20 years in the military, I was going to spend the remaining time as an officer.
"After I completed OCS, I wanted to be in a unit a little closer to home, so I started as an officer at the newly formed 426th Signal Co., in Fargo."
Abel is married and has three children at home in West Fargo. His parents still live in Minot. He keeps in contact with his family regularly through Skype, a software application that allows users to make phone and video calls over the Internet.
The thing Abel misses the most about home is his family and he is thankful for the Internet services that are available here.
Abel looks forward to seeing his wife, as well as seeing how much his children have grown and what they have done in the past year. He also looks forward to the freedom to just take a drive or relax at home and do things that don't require a deadline.
"The time is moving so fast due to the pace required to manage the responsibilities our section has; I have not really stopped to think about the deployment being half over," Abel said.
"We are transitioning and the pace is fast," he said. "The deadlines are short. We are working very hard to accomplish all we have set out to do. We make our deadlines and it all helps to benefit the people in Kosovo."