The Wood-Paneled Office

15 - 21 Feb 1996

Thu 15 Feb

Up at 0645. We are supposed to leave at 0800 but have the usual delays. Light snow most of the day. We convoy to the home of the Milici Brigade commander south of Sekovici. While waiting we have to squeeze off the shoulder so a convoy of Bradleys can get by. Dicey. Kennedy invites the commander to a meeting of the JMC. He declines without orders from his higher. Then to Vlasenica; the mayor's aide accepts the invitation, says the mayor will "probably" come.

Then we go to the office of the Vlasenica Brigade commander. I escort Kennedy along with a Navy airman named Dosen. He's here as a linguist, wants to be a SEAL. He's sharp and very security conscious - Kennedy drives him nuts, too. She walked us both right into Serb military headquarters with no heads-up. I said to Dosen "If we're going into somebody's military headquarters, it would be nice to know". He agreed.

We are back at LA Diane by 1500. LTC Briscoe drops in; he likes our setup, says everyone is living better than he is. We advise him the Serbs are very cool toward the JMC. He says if they don't come he'll just hold a hospitality session for the folks from the Bosnian side.

I have had a scab on my heel ever since breaking in my Matterhorn (cold weather) boots at Fort Bragg. The last few days my right foot has been severely inflamed. The medic at Diane said to go to the aid station at Demi, so I drove Ray to Command and Staff, then went to the aid station. There was no hot water so they had to heat some. They washed my foot in very hot water, making it so red you couldn't tell the sore spot from anything else. Then they said I had to wait for the doctor. M*A*S*H this wasn't. Finally Dr. (CPT) Kaplan came, said it wasn't badly infected, and was mechanically irritated by the boot. So tell me something I don't already know. He gave me some moleskin (which helped) and some antibiotics (which may or may not).

We are low on fuel but don't top off because of my aid station visit. Also I got some bad information from LT McDonald that the fuel point was closed - it turns out I could have fueld up after all. Then we had a real cluster getting Ray out of the meeting, then one of our vehicles broke down with a blown heater. The mechanics refilled the cooling system and made a mad dash for Diane. I got to bed at 2230, miraculously.

The late returns from Staff Call were usually due to LT McDonald. BMO is Officer Siberia, more so since we are separated from the main body. It supports one of the three fundamentals of the Army - Move, Shoot, Communicate, but it's not heroic like Shooting or high-tech and James Bond-like like Communicating. So McDonald, a West Pointer, spends his days in maintenance and relishes a chance to go in at night and be with his professional colleagues. Staff Calls led by Chief Black were in-and-out, but McDonald would often stay until 2200. Many a night we wanted to kill him, except that in all other respects we liked the guy too much. So typical of this deployment, where an overall excellent person has one quirk that drives people bonkers.

While preparing to go out, I think I left my Swiss Army Knife on the rear fender of the Hummer after cutting some cord. At any rate, it's lost (but see XXX xx!)

I didn't know it at the time, but I met two of my favorite people of the whole deployment today. Dosen is 26, joined the Navy late. He is friendly and has a great sense of humor. Dr. Kaplan is a stereotypical wise-cracking Jewish doctor from New York who, it turns out, is also a native speaker of Russian. We got him some good civilian medical contacts and become good friends with him. Any day I dealt with either was a little easier to handle.

Fri 16 Feb

Up at 0630 for 0800 convoy. We accompany MAJ Jarred, the S-3, to Stupari. He's a big black man with a somewhat stern manner, a bit intimidating at first but ultimately a decent man to work with. He talks with local army officers about mines, we talk with local officials. Then we go to the local school and do a damage assessment, and check out the little local Red Cross center.

The house across from the Red Cross housed a family that had 8 daughters before having a son. The locals joked about setting up our single soldiers. One had her baby at the second floor window, waving to us. I waved back, she made him wave. Cute game.

We got back early - 1300. Scott Miller and I go across the road to the Sokolina factory to trace their big aerial photo of Kladanj. It's cloudy when we go in but clear when we come out at 1600. The summit of Bratilo has a white cap of frost and is catching the sun - gorgeous.

Radio watch from 1800-2400. Write reports and a long letter to Shawn. LT McDonald comes back from Command and Staff - he and Chief Black get into a wisecracking session that had me in stitches. Part of my duties when I go off are to check the Ammo Supply Point (ASP). A roving guard challenges me - good, shows he's on his toes. Brilliant stars as I head to bed at 0030.

We have workers constructing the addition to our building. We have served them coffee a number of times. Yesterday they gave us some cheese, egg and ham rolls - sort of a Bosnian Egg McMuffin. Today Bachi had some ham and eggs and made us omelets. Outstanding! Bachi had us in stitches telling us how he got out of the Yugoslav Army with a "heart ailment". Bachi is strong as a horse, but his lack of military service sometimes was a problem. Unlike Semir, who had served, Bachi sometimes had trouble with the concept of following orders.

We get good news. Command and Staff has been cut to three times a week: Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.

Sat 17 Feb

Office day. Sleep in till 0930. Robb, Dosen and Rall drop by en route to Kladanj. Dosen tells us a little of his family history. He grew up in a Serbo-Croat neighborhood in Chicago. His father was in a prison camp at age 13 during the late 40's. He escaped and tried to cross the border with 15 others. Six of them made it. He's a Croat and his dialect is a sensitive issue at times with the Serbs. SFC Robb will be leaving soon for USAREUR HQ as NCOIC of CI (how's that for a string of acronyms?). That will be a comfortable desk job.

I have been working on my chess set for a week and finally got it done today. I made a chess board out of an MRE crate, then played two games of chess with Bachi - two of the worst games ever played - I got creamed.

We put up our Kladanj map - very detailed, and Ray is very pleased with it. Then we brainstormed some ways to connect consultants with local factories. (Good idea, despite the element of mission creep, but it never went anywhere.)

The front addition is finally done. The wood is beautiful. The carpenters were doing finish cuts with chain saws! (On closer inspection, nothing was straight. And fittings soon began falling apart. Their way of installing screws was to drill gigantic pilot holes, jam in a shim, and then screw into it. Everything looked pretty for a while but soon fell apart. Very typical East bloc approach. Communism may be dead, the pessimist in me says dormant, but the attitudes live on.)

LT McDonald told us some Cloutier stories. He was annoyed that McDonald got here ahead of him - he wanted to be the first 4/12 officer in-country. Clout filled his vehicle with LAW's, grenades, and so on and finally LTC Briscoe told him to secure it. Clout wanted to have everybody dig in before setting up tents, told his troops they would be spending the first 30 days sandbagging. The commander had to remind him that this is low, not high-intensity conflict. Definitely a nut case.

Sun 18 Feb

Up at 0730, out to Demi at 0840. It's a beautiful clear day. I confer with Robb about Monday's mission, but nothing is firm at 1045 when we depart. We convoy to 2BCT HQ for Data Dump. I meet Jakubenas, Libassi, Argetsinger. All kinds of rumors are afoot: Force Pak 7 will be scattered all over Europe, we will leave all our major items behind when we go home at the end of 6 months (that turned out to be true).

Sandy Zimmerman had to leave abruptly. She was told to go immediately with the engineers to respond to a fire, and to leave in 15 minutes. The fire is in Olovo, they are going via Tuzla, and the fire has already been burning for 48 hours. Must be a real emergency (it was a dump fire). I had a bad scare, thought I lost my heavy gloves, but found them in the TOC.

We stay until 1700. CPT Miller goes to the mess hall to get us chow, Bernie Rall goes to talk to COL Batiste. Suddenly our convoy starts pulling out. Miller comes running back, dashes off to find Bernie. They pile in, we chase down the convoy. One of the benefits of the bad road in is that catching up to people isn't much of a problem. Scott snagged a bag of bread, some juice and apples for supper, which we ate on the way. We stop at Demi for Staff Call, get home to Diane at 2130.

Frost, and especially Bestul are serious disappointments. They are not using their enlisted people effectively and are disorganized. They let their enlisted people be used for details instead of manning the TOC.

Mon 19 Feb

Cloudy and chilly. We are supposed to link up with the commander's convoy to Sekovici and Vlasenica, but the maintenance convoy to Demi is held up by a "health and welfare" (shakedown) inspection for booze. The commander leaves without us. Ray is about to scrub it when we get a radio message to send us. We go to Demi, to find the XO's convoy forming up on the road. He says he thought we were staying back. Fortunately, he's headed back so we just ride along with him.

Miller and I hike into Kladanj to do normality assessments, The Croatian Catholic church, under construction when the war began, had most of its roof missing. I eventually learn that small-caliber shells hitting a tile roof tend to blow tiles away but not the framing; that's what apparently happened here. There's a small open market, some stores open but the stock is scanty. Prices, surprisingly, are moderate, and even bananas, oranges and Kiwi fruit are available. Scarcity is not an issue; this place could be flooded with goods if people had the money, so there's no point in price gouging.

On the way back, two choppers orbit the town, passing closer on each pass. Have they seen us? We're on legitimate official business but could still catch hell for going in with such a small patrol. Finally the choppers left. Spooky.

Wind picks up in the evening, very strong and warm (40's). The snow melts rapidly.

Tues 20 Feb

Radio watch 0000-0600. Write to Shawn and colleagues at UWGB, print reports, check the guards. Dealing with the printers is an epic of frustration - the dot matrix ribbon is about used up and the laser printer keeps giving errors. The wind is very strong. Rain begins 0500, changes later to snow. After watch I sleep (sort of) till 1030. Miller and Comfort spend all day on the JMC preparations.

Reschke was tasked with building a box to secure our fuel cans. He plugged the power saw into the power converter and promptly blew a fuse. This time it's not his fault - I didn't think of it either. Despite a robust appearance, the converter can only handle a few amps. We have no replacement, so I wrap the fuse in tinfoil until Comfort gets back (it's still there in June when we pack it to bring home!). It's a quiet day. I write letters, play Jezzball on the computer, pull radio watch in the evening for Miller.

Last night's windstorm caused a lot of damage and a few injuries at the Battalion Support Area (BSA). A lot of tents blew down. They are in a strip mine and can't drive pegs very effectively.

The end of Ramadan here is called Bayram, a Turkish word (in Arabic it's Eid). There are signs out saying Bayram Serif Mubarek Olsun - basically Happy Bayram. The words are Turkish but the letters are Bosnian - they use different letters for the "sh" in Serif.

Wed 21 Feb

We spend most of the day relocating to the new part of the building, then I re-type two long lost reports. At 1400 Dr. Kaplan comes over and we foot patrol into Kladanj to the hospital to confer on the availability and price of the X-ray unit. It turns out their X-ray technician is not available much of the time because she is working for IFOR as an interpreter - the pay is far better.

Kaplan is a native speaker of Russian. He left St. Petersburg at age 12 and speaks English with a pure New York accent. He says he can only understand about a quarter of Bosnian. The female doctor at the hospital wanted to try Latin, which would get the medical terms across.

Ray was out all day at the JMC. After he got in, we worked until 2200 setting up the TOC. This JMC included both civilian and military officials, who had no common interests. Ray thought that in the future military and civilian meetings should be held separately. Others thought so too, and that was what happened.

We had some tense moments. Division G5 has been on Ray's case to investigate allegations that American soldiers had been drinking at the Hotel Bosna - CA troops are among the few that can legally drink if it's in the context of a social gathering with local officials - and they were concerned about possible abuse or appearance of abuse. Ray found out the incident reported involved the battalion commander and staff; they were in town having dinner with the mayor, and Ray went down to talk to them. Scott and I were apprehensive about how it would go, but there was no problem.

Ray has radio watch from 0000 to 0600 but wants a new system of shorte hours. He does 0000-0200 (0300 by the time he gets done with reports) and I do 0200-0400. We spend a few days with two-hour shifts, then decide to go to three-hour shifts. Each of us pulls watch two nights out of three.

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Last update 23 Apr 1997