When Yugoslav authorities finally agreed to NATO's withdrawal terms last month after 78 days of allied airstrikes, Army Col. Greg Kaufmann and his team of Balkans experts at the Pentagon broke open a case of Samuel Adams beer.
Not so much in celebration as relief.
The war had kept Kaufmann's 11-member task force working late most nights and through weekends, monitoring developments in the Balkans and drafting policy options for the Pentagon's top civilian officials. With the end of hostilities, some of the pressure has eased.
"The intensity is down," Kaufmann said, noting that urgent cables are no longer streaming in from NATO headquarters in Belgium requiring immediate action.
Marshall Smith, an intelligence analyst on loan to the task force from the Defense Intelligence Agency, had found the nearly nonstop pace more demanding than anything he had experienced in 16 years as a civil servant. He joined the team in February, a month before the airstrikes began.
"It was kind of culture shock for me," he said. "In my old job, I came in at 8 o'clock and went home at 16:30 [4:30 p.m.]; that's a normal civil service routine. Here, I was coming in quite a bit earlier, and at 16:30, we were just warming up here. I also had a beeper, which I never had before."
But the task force, in existence since 1995 when NATO peacekeeping troops moved into Bosnia, is hardly about to disband. If Bosnia is any example, Kaufmann's group expects to continue putting in long hours for months to come, given how shaky things remain in Kosovo.
"The whole region is still very unstable," Kaufmann said. He added that the United States and its European allies are beginning to take a more comprehensive approach to the region in hopes of breaking the recent cycle of conflict and peacemaking.
"Instead of always piecemealing everything, what Kosovo has finally done is driven home the point that we need to engage the region. We can't have these independent separate issues like Bosnia and Croatia and Kosovo and think we can keep them independent of each other," the colonel said. "We need to take a step back."
CRISIS ACTION: The Balkans task force wasn't the only Pentagon group spun up during the war. The Air Force doubled the size of its "crisis action" center, drafting an additional 60 military and civilian personnel from jobs elsewhere in the Pentagon.
Huddled in a newly renovated complex of computer terminals located deep in the Pentagon's basement, the Air Force team monitored the flow of aircraft to and from the war, gathered reports on airstrikes and prepared daily briefings for senior Air Force officials.
With most of the 500 Air Force aircraft involved in the air campaign now back at their home bases, the crisis center cut back its operations this past weekend from 24 hours a day to 12 hours.
Col. David P. Jones, head of the center, said expanding the hours and staff had put a strain on the Air Force's other business. "For next time, we're looking at how better to manage crisis duty with regular jobs," Jones said. "No one had envisioned this time that the operation would go as long as it did. Many people ended up having to put their day jobs on hold."
UNEXPECTED ROLE: Talking about putting day jobs on hold, the Joint Staff's second-ranking policy planner was among those who found himself playing an entirely unexpected role during the conflict. Two weeks into the war, Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Wald was recruited to deliver daily updates on the action to reporters, after Pentagon officials concluded they needed to augment NATO's briefings earlier in the day.
A pilot who had flown combat missions over Bosnia, the general frequently opened his briefings with silent gun camera footage from strikes against Yugoslav targets. Now back in his post as vice director for strategy and policy, Wald acknowledged the fleeting, soundless images tended to give the war an unreal quality and failed to convey the anti-aircraft fire that many pilots were encountering.
"There was just no emotion to many of the films," Wald said. "We need to figure out some way to put the human element back in--to have more [pilot] voices because after a while, people become a little bit callous to the fact that film is almost like a video game."