Mines (the Other Kind)

8 - 12 Apr 1996

Mon 8 Apr

Up at 0530, out to Demi at 0630. We leave at 0900. First stop is Vlasenica, to invite the Mayor to the Joint Civilian Council meeting. He's a thin, bookish type but Baci says he's a hero, and was the first to volunteer for combat during the war. He stonewalls on the JCC, and says he needs the approval of the Serb government (in general, the Serbs are much more authoritarian and stand-offish than the Moslems, and much less prone to act on their own initiative. We also talked about the sewage issue. He claims the land was leased falsely, without city approval, and he fears that Kladaj sewage will go there (not so, it's for the camps only).

Then we go to Milici and meet with the mayor there to invite him to the JCC. He's a mousy bureaucratic type who likes to dictate terms. He got all hot and bothered over the word "zahtev", which can mean either request or demand. He (probably intentionally) misread it to mean we demanded his attendance. We smoothed that over, but I doubt he'll come (he didn't). He also insists on no weapons in his office; insists there are no police in Milici. I wonder who all the guys in blue uniforms are?

Then Hadrick and I wait outside the hospital while Scott arranges a meeting with the doctor for next week. It's warm when the sun is out but chilly when it disappears behind the clouds.

From there we go south to the Bauxite mines. I'd been intrigued by these ever since I first saw them on a map. The mission is to scout out possible places to set up a firing range (and also to have a reason to be close by Srebrenica?) The road clings to the side of a spectacular canyon on the way up. From Derventa, a few kilometers south of Milici, to the mines, all the villages are destroyed. We get up there and find out an artillery crew is setting up. The mine and building complex is huge. The pit is about a mile across.

I've noted that the landscape has a two-story appearance. Around Kladanj there seems to be a middle elevation surface at the contact between the thick limestones and the underlying rocks. At the bauxite mines the terrace is within the limestone. The uppermost summits are at 1100 meters, the hills drop steeply to the terrace at 600 meters, and then the terrace is cut by the canyon. The bauxite appears to be filling a huge sinkhole in the limestone terrace. Where did the aluminum come from?

On the way back, we hear lots of radio chatter about a movement of Serbian BMP's. We meet them halfway between Milici and Vlasenica.The S3 stops the convoy to check it out; he contributes nothing toward resolving the matter but does tie up traffic and spend a half hour. They were planning to store them at Derventa but hadn't coordinated through the Drina Corps and Brigade, so they had to go back and start over. We had at least a dozen Bradleys there to their four BMP's.

We stop at Brigade. MAJ Frost guesses 22 June for redeployment; I think that's close (it was). Also there are rumors CPT Huempfner may join our team (he didn't). We leave at 1900, get back to Demi at 2030. Scott is delighted to miss Command and Staff. We split what's left of radio watch; I do 2100-2230.

Tue 9 Apr

We hike into Kladanj at 0930. We meet with the fire department, check the water department about the pipeline bill, and visit stationery stores checking on computer supplies. The main store wants 5 DM per disk(!). Azra's place want's 2.90; steep by U.S. standards (very) but about what they were when 3-1/2" disks first came out, and probably not out of line given the economy here.

Then we drop in on the family we met at the checkpoint on 7 April. The wife was still flying. She showed us a Polaroid photo and said troops at the checkpoint were crying. I had nothing to do with this whatsoever but I'm proud just to be with the people who were.

Then we stop off at the tailor to get the D Company guidon fixed, only to find out his daughter is a woman we know from Social Welfare. We stop off at Social Welfare for a bit, then get back about 1600. I'm tired and take a nap.

We took along a Sgt Jones from Italy, TX, a nice kid who really enjoyed his time in town. SFC Brouwer told me he had a good time. SFC Brouwer is a good-natured bear of a guy and we have gotten on good terms. His wife calls almost every night on the phone, and so I'm constantly running to get him whenever I'm on radio watch. Once or twice I picked up the phone and answered "Sergeant Brouwer's answering service." It's gotten so I recognize her voice immediately.

Late in the afternoon the owner of Azra's shop (her husband) drops by to get the specs on a laser printer cartridge we need replaced. He brought along his daughter, a cute 8-year-old with missing teeth. She's learning English and sang some songs for us. (Azra herself is a very pretty brunette with a lovely smile.)

We learn today that a bombshell is about to hit. Local landowners have contracts for 50 pfennigs per square meter per month. That should have been per year. How the contracting people in Lukavac are going to handle this I haven't a clue.

Warrior Main (LTC Briscoe) calls and asks how often the river goes dry in the summer. We know it gets low, and will check with the locals.

I got a letter from the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey about the 1997 Geological Society of America meeting in Madison. There is life (and work!) after this deployment.

Wed 10 Apr

Up at 0540. Miller and Hadrick go with the S-3 to Milici, then to Brigade to go to Pale tomorrow for a meeting. They will need our vehicle, so I drive for Chief Kennedy. I get stuck with a nasty job - meet with the mayor of Vlasenica and tell him that we have decided to use the sewage pit - period. he mayor plays dumb at first, as if he had no idea what this was about, very weird, since I had been with him before when we discussed it. He starts making vague hints of renewed violence (over a sewage pit?). We hear various things about the pit: it wasn't properly agreed upon and it will pollute the river. That's rich. People here think that if they can't see where things go into the river, they don't exist. The water seeping out of the lagoon is probably cleaner than the river. The real fear is that Moslem sewage will be stored on the Serbian side.

SSG Collins comes along. I talk, he observes. then we go to the police chief and switch roles. We also hear that LA Lisa is blocking folks in some villages from getting to Vlasenica; they have to go a roundabout way through Milici. We promise to report the problem. Then we go to Sekovici, talk to the Mayor and invite him to the JCC. I ask about the river going dry; he says it never does. The concern is the water purification units at LA Pat, and whether they can draw from the river during the summer. We wait from 1500 to 1900 for Psyops to finish their radio show, then convoy back. Kennedy drops me off at 2030, then I do radio watch 2100-2400. I tell Hoskins not to wake me short of nuclear war.

Thu 11 Apr

Up at 0830. Hoskins and I hike in at 1100. We get haircuts and pick up the D Company guidon. The tailor did a fine job as a favor to IFOR - no charge (the D Company folks are duly impressed; our stock goes up). We visit the mayor and inquire about using civilian trucks and gravel from the IFOR pit to fix the road to Imamovici. The Mayor gets into a long talk about the war. When this happens we listen - people need to do it. On the way back we stop on the hill to get a grid location on the small Orthodox cemetery; in the process I do something wrong and mess up the GPS unit. In the evening I write letters and pull radio watch 1800-2100.

Sometime around this date I came on radio watch about 2400 to hear frantic radio traffic about dismounting the TOW's from the Bradleys. I joked to a visiting LT, "Somebody have an accidental discharge?" I ignored it as just another one of those frantic things that has to be done right now in the middle of the night and can't wait until morning, so I didn't write it down. Later on I found out somebody did just that! On 7 Apr a Bradley crew shut off turret power but did not turn off the TOW's. The next crew turned on the power and two of them launched! Thinking about what went on in the lives of those involved after this happened just boggles the mind.

Almost as good was the story of the field grade officer in Tuzla who bragged "I know how to clear my weapon, then put a round through the roof of the TOC.

This is as good a place as any to talk about accidental discharges. IFOR policy is they should never happen, period. There is no reason for a soldier not to know at all times whether he has a round in the chamber and the weapon on safe. An accidental discharge gets a field-grade Article 15. If there's any justice, the field-grade officer above should have gotten one (but I bet he didn't). What amazes me are the number of instances I know of where senior officers and NCO's balk at clearing their weapon, and even try to pull rank on guards. Admittedly, as a Reservist, I miss some of the nuances of active duty life, but I was under the impression that:

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

The closest I ever came was one night when I pulled back the bolt and was horrified to see rounds. I had forgotten to take out the magazine. The guard spotted it, too. I held the bolt back, the guard took the magazine out, and that was that. I commended him for doing good work and meant it from the bottom of my heart. I was still a couple of steps from a discharge, but it was a sobering lesson that even a momentary lapse could get you in trouble.

Fri 12 Apr

A slow day. Brigade Finance comes by at 1000 to pay local landowners. I had misunderstood the messages from LT Bishop and told people they would be paid next Tuesday, but it all worked out OK. Nobody in Bosnia ever complains about being called to come in and get paid earlier than they expected. The NCOIC of the team is an arrogant little pissant with all the qualities I despise in MP's (To be fair, some MP's - in a couple of weeks I will deal with some real professionals). Regardless of orders, he's going to keep a round in his chamber (see the discussion for yesterday). After this is done we go in to see the mayor about fixing the road in Staric. It turns out I misunderstood this one, too. I thought it involved the road to Imamovici (west of Demi) but it really involved the road to Staric (east of Demi). We told the mayor if he had trucks, IFOR could load gravel but no more. We went over to the Bezistan restaurant for a lunch that lasted three hours. The mayor is something of a womanizer to judge from the conversation. After we get to Diane, I try to catch a ride in to Demi to see finance and cash a traveler's check, but MAJ Dixon decides to be a stickler; there aren't enough seats and he won't let me ride in the center of his Hummer. (The Brigade finance team that came by was not the finance team for soldiers.)

Later on I go in to cover Command and Staff (after the finance team is gone). They call for CA, Chief Kennedy says we're not here. I reply "yes we are"; shouts of "hoo-ah" from the group. I briefed that CPT Miller and Hadrick were in Pale at a UNHCR meeting, briefed on the sewage pit issue, the JCC held on 2 April, and my observation that some of the Serbs seemed to be probing and trying to dictate terms on minor issues. Afterward, LTC Briscoe delivers a lecture on speeding and did an impression of CPT Jackson riding at top speed in an open turret; he used his hands to pull back his cheeks as if being blown back by the wind. We were in stitches (I like this commander!) I got back at 2130 and pulled radio watch until 2400.

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Last update 23 Apr 1997